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Ethics were roadkill in conflict-of-interest job

It is the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse. In this case, it is the public asphalt guy guarding his private employer's bottom line. Too bad concerns for the public's best interests got paved over as a result.

Bill Busch worked full time for Hernando County as its paving management coordinator for more than seven years, retiring in early 2008. He returned as a contract worker later the same month, putting in up to 10 hours a week performing his same duties, writing bids and working with contractors maintaining an 800-mile road network.

For at least part of that time, he doubled as the Florida office for KMS and Associates Inc. of Ohio, which, since 2002, received $235,000 worth of county contracts written in part by Busch.

As detailed by Times staff writers John Frank and Barbara Behrendt, the company's Web site lists Busch's home address and e-mail as the KMS Florida contact. He also represented the company by lobbying for business from at least one other municipal government.

Meanwhile, the public is left to wonder if Busch represented KMS while simultaneously accepting his Hernando County paycheck for public service — a $64,000-a-year position in which he is now suspected of guiding work to the company via the bid specifications he authored.

The dual role of contract worker and KMS representative violates the county government's ethical safeguards and authorities are determining if Busch's activities violated the law. Criminal or not, it is a disgrace. Busch disregarded an obvious conflict and put personal financial gain ahead of service to the residents of Hernando County. The situation was easy to avoid. Busch should have resigned his government role as soon as he accepted the private job with KMS.

Breaking the multiple ties would have been wise considering there is evidence he pushed work to KMS, trying, in one instance, to get its affiliate a no-bid job to apply an asphalt rejuvenation product known as RePLAY.

Busch isn't the only government employee who owes an accounting to the public. His boss, public works director Charles Mixson, must explain his role vetting his subordinate. Asking contract workers if they have financial ties to vendors doing business with the county should be a matter of routine. It helps avoid criminal investigations.

It is Mixson, after all, who supported Busch's advocacy for RePLAY that cost $300,000 more than what a competitor offered. Ignorance isn't much of a fallback position considering the 55 percent markup on that job defies the original intent of the road spraying program — saving money.

Ethics were roadkill in conflict-of-interest job 08/21/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 26, 2008 6:07pm]
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