Hernando County government's inability to properly vet its high-priced consultants is an embarrassment that remains unfixed despite numerous opportunities to do so. Friday, the county fired Gregory Jarque as dredge construction manager under the guise that he failed to correct a misstatement from Commissioner David Russell about the extent of his license qualifications. What drivel.
The administration doesn't care if Jarque can't work more than three stories in the air. County Administrator David Hamilton canned Jarque after the county failed to uncover the contractor's 15-year-old arrest record in Long Island for attempted arson.
It is the third time the lack of hiring safeguards has been exposed. Sloppy background work previously failed to reveal former procurement official Lisa Hammond's dubious education credentials and the tax problems of a proposed dredge subcontractor — Grubbs Construction.
Hamilton must accept responsibility for this latest mess. The administrator recruited Jarque to the unadvertised position because Hamilton was familiar with his company's work at the nonprofit Arc Nature Coast training center and hurricane shelter, construction of which came in early and under budget. Jarque's $152,500 county consulting job was to ride herd over the dredge contractor, BC Peabody, to ensure completion in a timely manner. Commissioners approved the contract Tuesday with Jeff Stabins and Jim Adkins dissenting.
Under a presumed state deadline of Dec. 31 to finish the dredge or risk losing $6 million in Department of Transportation funding, the county continues to trip over its corner-cutting on personnel and contract matters. The commission retained Jarque under a declared emergency — because of the looming funding deadline — without seeking requests for proposals to determine if other companies (absent arrest records) could perform the same duties.
The rushed hiring, even though Jarque's company was in arrears on county fees, brought a unsubstantiated suggestion from Commissioner Jeff Stabins that Hamilton recommended the contractor because of a quid pro quo with the administrator's wife, Linda, a fundraiser for Arc. Unfortunately, Stabins' call for transparency was overshadowed by his desired theatrics to criticize Hamilton's three-year tenure. Likewise, Stabins questioned Jarque about documented work hours, but never took the liberty to quiz him about the unpaid assessments or other background issues.
Stabins now wants a special meeting to ask for Hamilton's resignation. It is an overreaction. However, the administrator must ensure improvement. The public is entitled to government contract services provided at a fair price by reputable companies.
Hiring by personal acquaintance instead of professional accountability needs to end.