For a person who is professionally trained in how to deal with employees' problems, Barbara Dupre did an awful job of handling her own. The result is that after a decade as director of Hernando County government's Human Resources Department, she has lost her job and the office she leaves behind has lost credibility.
Dupre is an overachiever with a low tolerance for criticism or disagreement. Consequently, she resisted instruction from her bosses. Her disputes with certain department heads were renowned. And her feud with Commissioner Diane Rowden bordered on insubordination. It is no wonder she had become a magnet for controversy.
But a recent investigation by an independent attorney's office revealed that the shortcomings of the Human Resources Department go beyond Dupre's self-defeating persona. As part of a probe regarding racial harassment of employees, the investigator looked at how Dupre's office reacted. Although no fault was found in how the complaint was handled, the investigator said the policies were woefully outdated.
Administrator David Hamilton, who forced Dupre's resignation last week, studied past audits of her department and found that Dupre repeatedly had failed to implement recommended changes to develop standard operating procedures. Instead, Hamilton discovered, individual departments set their own rules.
After interviewing some of Dupre's colleagues, the investigator emerged with a broader and more damning perspective about the Human Resources Department: "There is little doubt that there is a lack of confidence in Human Resources at least insofar as its management of employee relations issues … (and) there is an expressed lack of trust and confidence in (Dupre) at every level of the agency."
But even if that were not grounds for termination, this would be: Dupre was on probation for storing candidate petition cards in her office, a violation of the county's policy about political activities that earned her a five-day suspension in January. She was warned then that another misstep could cost her her job. Since then, Dupre has used her county e-mail to collect petition cards for a judicial candidate.
Although Dupre bears most of the responsibility for her downfall, and for some of the deficiencies in Human Resources operations, others share in this failure. They include longtime department heads who resisted oversight from Dupre's office, and administrators who did not exhibit the leadership or tenacity to monitor her operation closely enough.
Dupre's departure necessitates an even keener leadership effort. Regaining the trust of employees and the respect of the public will be a delicate job that may take some time for Hamilton and his staff to mend. But for the sake of the public servants who must rely on the integrity and professionalism of the Human Resources Department, it must be a priority.