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Mixup leads to motion for ouster

Learning that County Engineer Charles Mixson was primarily responsible for allowing a contractor to start work without a license was enough to make Commissioner June Ester call for his job.

She made a motion to fire Mixson because of this problem and what she said is a continuing pattern of careless management.

"This is just my final straw. Evidently it was not everyone else's," she said.

Her motion died for a lack of a second, but this does not mean that Ester is the only commissioner dissatisfied with Mixson's work.

The commission unanimously supported Commissioner Tony Mosca's follow-up motion that the county study the costs and benefits of contracting Mixson's work to a private consultant.

And Commission Chairman John Richardson said he did not second Ester's original motion only because he could see that none of the other three commissioners supported it.

"I'm displeased," Richardson said of Mixson's work.

Mixson's office was responsible for checking to see whether Southern Concrete Pavers Inc. of Lecanto had a license to work in the county, said County Administrator Chuck Hetrick.

The county stopped the company from working on a $107,000 project to build sidewalks around the county's schools last week after it was discovered that it did not have a license called a competency card, which is needed to show that contractors are capable of doing specific types of construction work. (See related story.)

Mixson, who has worked for the county for six years, is its second-highest paid employee, earning $57,300 a year. He pointed out after the meeting that nothing in county policy requires him to check licenses. "There's no internal check."

Hetrick confirmed that, but said it is standard procedure for licenses to be checked by the office _ in this case Mixson's _ which is overseeing the project.

Mixson declined to comment on Ester's motion, and said that he did not object to the feasibility study.

Ester said that if the commission decides to contract Mixson's work out to a private firm after the study, the 11 people in his office would not necessarily be fired. Many came from other county departments when Mixson's office was separated from the Department of Public Works about two years ago, and many perform functions that would still be needed by the county.

Mosca's motion did not stipulate whether Mixson would be replaced if the feasibility study recommended hiring an outside firm.

"I don't know if we need to dissolve that department. I don't know if we should just have someone else leading it," Richardson said.

Both Ester and Richardson said they have confidence in Mixson's ability as an engineer, but not as a manager.

"I told Charles a year ago to dot every I and cross every T when it came to Pine Island," Richardson said.

The problems with the $125,000 project are among the most recent that Ester and Richardson mentioned.

Work started on the seawall at Pine Island without a permit from the state Department of Natural Resources. There is still no permit and no final decision on whether the county will be fined for not having it. Mixson said he had oral approval from the department before the work began.

After complaints from concrete contractor David Pointec, the commission personally checked the concrete supports beneath the seawall and found two of them to be either missing or inadequate. These were quickly repaired and never threatened the structural integrity of the project, Mixson said.

Both Richardson and Ester said Mixson had mishandled a cost overrun for the widening of Spring Hill Drive. Last July he presented them with a bill for $72,000 nearly four months after the work had been done.

Ester objected to raises that Mixson gave to most people in his office, including himself. Several of them were more than the 5 percent that the commission said should ordinarily be considered the maximum. His budget also called for him to buy two four-wheel-drive vehicles, which Ester said were not necessary.