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Flawed suggestion won't solve engineering trouble

Sound the alarm. The Hernando County Commission is at it again.

Commissioners are trying to create still another government monster, and they must be stopped before it takes to the streets.

At issue is the position of county engineer, now held by Charles Mixson. It is obvious that commission members are not satisfied with his job performance and haven't been for some time _ probably with good reason. His latest errors haven't raised the value of his stock in the courthouse.

Mixson's mishandling of the construction of a county seawall could end up costing the county plenty in fines; a road-building project in his charge already has cost $72,000 in overruns; and he gave himself and his employees raises above the county-approved level.

Clearly, it's time for action.

But not what the commission is pondering.

On Tuesday, Commissioner Tony Mosca Jr. suggested the county look into putting an outside consultant in charge of the county engineer's office. Although it was noted that such a course could return the county to the bad old days when an outside firm worked both sides of the engineering fence, commissioners unanimously approved a feasibility study for Mosca's plan.

The commission would have been wiser to scuttle the whole idea of an outside consultant on the spot. Didn't commissioners learn their lesson about such arrangements during the time that Coastal Engineering was both outside consultant and insider contractor?

What are they trying to do? Create a situation similar to that in the county attorney's office, where big boss Bruce Snow has his office down the street and the underlings are left to fend for themselves back at the courthouse?

Commissioners should realize by now that they give up all control over an office when it leaves the courthouse. The county engineer position is one that should remain in-house where it can be under constant scrutiny and where all documents can be kept in a central place available to anyone who wants to see them.

Isn't it bad enough that residents must go traipsing all over town to find out about the county's legal business? That the public has to fight to find out what is going on in its privately operated jail? Do commissioners want to farm out every traditional county service and make it even more difficult for the public to gain access to public information?

In truth, Mixson should be County Administrator Chuck Hetrick's problem. After all, Hernando does have a county administrator form of government, and that's what Hetrick is paid to do.

For commissioners to meddle in lower- and mid-level hiring decisions breaks the chain of command and takes commissioners' minds off the important jobs they were elected to do, which is to set policy and guide county business on a broad scale.

Commissioners should tell Hetrick they are dissatisfied with Mixson's performance, then wait for him to take action. If Hetrick doesn't remedy the situation, perhaps that is the place to consider a new arrangement.