The departure of Hernando County's fleet manager reveals a me-first attitude still persists among some public servants despite the administration's attempts to change the culture of county government.
Last week, fleet manager Jack Stepongzi was shown the door after acknowledging he pocketed commissions from a vendor doing business with Hernando County. Stepongzi rationalized the arrangement saying the county didn't pay a higher price for the GPS systems purchased from low-bidder Vulocity for roughly $3,300.
Really? Imagine the reduced price to the public if the Texas-based vendor didn't have to account for a 10 percent payout to Stepongzi.
Even more disappointing than Stepongzi's lack of judgment is that he is the guy the county brought in to clean up the fleet management operation after a 2007 audit revealed a department lacking accountability in how it managed and maintained 550 vehicles and pieces of equipment.
Instead, Stepongzi sought to clean up in another way. He acted like the proverbial fox guarding the hen house by intermingling personal and public business, raising suspicions that he may have used the county's tax exempt status for personal gain and profited from side agreements with companies doing business with Hernando County.
While he was trying to boost his personal income, Stepongzi was derelict in his professional duties. A June 2009 performance evaluation stated he "is not meeting performance expectations, demonstrates lapses in judgment, lacks common sense, makes poor decisions and has failed to adequately manage the Fleet Division.'' In August, Stepongzi's supervisor, Charles Mixson, county engineer and public works director, said the fleet manager wasn't doing his job and two other employees were taking up the slack.
Exactly why Stepongzi remained on the payroll until an anonymous whistle blower revealed the side deal with Vulocity needs to be explained. A county government still trying to identify hundreds of thousands of dollars in cuts to balance the budget for the rest of the fiscal year cannot tolerate such employee behavior.
Here is a sample of the allegations surrounding the fleet manager's work habits, some of which have been investigated preliminarily by the county, but now are under review by law enforcement:
• Ran a personal business as a so-called reseller, effectively earning referral fees for recommending products from the same GPS vendor, Vulocity. He also ran a Web site intended to generate income from sales triggered by links and banner advertisements on the site.
"We look forward to working with you and helping you achieve success with pay for performance marketing,'' reads an Oct. 11 e-mail from Commission Junction to Stepongzi that he forwarded to his county e-mail address.
• Spent more than nine hours on long-distance telephone calls not related to county business over an 11-month period.
• Liked to lunch, absent other county employees, with vendors who do business with the county.
• Purchased tires for his motor home from a county vendor and boasted that he was getting a great deal.
Meanwhile, purchasing records do not reconcile the number of GPS units acquired by the county. The county purchased nine GPS tracking units from Vulocity this year, according to fleet records, though amended paperwork in October listed the inventory at eight. Finance Department records show the county paid for 10.
That's some record of accomplishment: Unaccounted for inventory, conducting private business on public time and with public resources, side deals with county vendors, and an inability to manage the department.
Two years after that critical county audit, the cleanup in fleet management remains unresolved.