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Officials discuss dismissing Hetrick

In the wake of an audit criticizing his performance, County Administrator Chuck Hetrick found his head on the chopping block on Tuesday and County Commissioner Ginny Brown-Waite ready to swing the ax.

Brown-Waite began a prepared statement by telling fellow Commissioner June Ester that she regretted not seconding her motion last week to fire County Engineer Charles Mixson.

But, she added, "I didn't second that motion because I think we had the wrong Charles. There used to be a television show, Charles in Charge. In Hernando County, Charles is not in charge."

Brown-Waite said she was prepared to introduce a motion calling for the firing of the man who for six years has directed the county government's staff, but she agreed to hold off after Commission Chairman John Richardson suggested discussing it at a meeting March 10. The board had earlier set that date to discuss the internal audit critical of Hetrick's office performed by the office of the Clerk of Circuit Court.

Brown-Waite's complaints with Hetrick were similar to those she and other commissioners have repeatedly voiced: he procrastinates; he is too easy on employees who make mistakes; he lacks initiative.

Hetrick's reputation as a push-over is such, Brown-Waite said, that two county department heads have told her: "Chuck Hetrick is so soft, he wouldn't fire Ted Bundy."

She said her move was not an "election-year pogrom."

"This comes from experience, frustration and lengthy discussions about the need for strength," she said.

Two commissioners, Tony Mosca and Harold Varvel, stood solidly by Hetrick.

"The reason that he's afraid to do anything is that he's got three or four commissioners down his back whenever he does," Varvel said. "When he's assertive he gets criticism, when he's not assertive he gets criticism.

Mosca pointed out that Hetrick had ordered the audit himself to find out problems in the office that needed to be fixed.

Richardson and Ester both said they were unhappy with Hetrick for many of the same reasons Brown-Waite cited. But neither would commit to voting to remove him until they had heard his presentation on March 10.

Ester said her vote might depend on whether Hetrick fires Mixson by then. Both Brown-Waite and Richardson mentioned on the record Tuesday that they thought Mixson should be fired, despite declining to second Ester's motion last week.

"If Mr. Hetrick does his job this week and picks up on what we told him this morning, I probably would not" vote to fire him, she said.

Hetrick said he plans to present a complete rebuttal to Brown-Waite's criticism "in a very structured way on March the 10th."

"My general reaction," he added, "is that this county has progressed in an astounding fashion in the last six to seven years and that we are very sound financially and we have been able to anticipate growth as well or better than any county in the state."

Hetrick, 60, was hired in July 1986 after leaving a high-paying job supervising as county administrator for Charleston County in South Carolina. He left there after one year on the job, partly because he made enemies by being too forceful and aggressive in implementing policy.

He had earlier been the county administrator in Rock County, Wis., and an assistant administrator in Volusia County.

He received a $5,000, 8.6 percent raise in October to $63,000, with the backing of Mosca and Varvel.

Richardson agreed that Hetrick has the county in good financial condition, but he also agreed with Ester and Brown-Waite that Hetrick's main legacy in Hernando is waffling, weakness and procrastination.

Among the examples sited by the three commissioners:

Hetrick has been working more than a year to improve the purchasing and contract administration functions, two items that the internal audit cited as the most pressing problems in his office.

Brown-Waite pointed out that she received a memo from County Budget Officer Bob Simpson a year ago that was an update in his effort to "study and improve" purchasing operations. Since then, she said, "We've had lots of study but no improvement."

When David Grover, assistant development director, was fired in March 1990, he received several thousand dollars in severance pay, they said, without the approval of commissioners.

Though the Hernando County Government Center was completed more than two years ago, the county still has not collected money from the contractor or architect Sanford Goldman for problems in its construction. A planned renovation of the old courthouse has barely progressed beyond the discussion stage, Ester said.

Brown-Waite brought from her briefcase a copy of a 1984 document from the County Commission directing County Attorney Bruce Snow to draw up an ordinance to have sand transport companies help pay for road maintenance. The issue came up again "on Hetrick's watch" in 1988, this time mentioning that the county staffers should help with the ordinance. A complete draft has yet to come back before the board, she said.