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Building official should retire, or be retired, now

In Crystal River, it seems the city manager is more concerned about trying to be nice than he is making sure that the public's best interest is served.

Several City Council members complained last week about the job performance of the city's top building official, John Henning.

The criticisms of Henning's performance have been around for years, but very little of that criticism has found its way into into his personnel file.

Over the years, he has been accused of lacking organizational skills, conducting personal business on city time and being less than thorough in inspecting buildings.

Most recently, he was criticized for issuing an after-the-fact permit for a boat lift. That approval has resulted in a neighbor suing the city.

City Manager Merv Waldrop, who has borne the brunt of the council's dissatisfaction with the building official, has been reluctant to come down hard on Henning in part because Henning plans to retire in January after 15 years on the job.

Waldrop has acknowledged that Henning must be more productive during his remaining time on the job, but it seems that his concern for improvement is too little, too late, and that his defense of Henning is misplaced.

Despite the council's strong words of warning last week, Waldrop is the only person with any real power over Henning. And Waldrop is reluctant to use the ultimate power of dismissal just three months before Henning's retirement.

Although his shielding of Henning seems well-intentioned, such sentiment is not always practical when dealing with the public's money and the city's potential liability.

It also sends the wrong message to other city employees and the public.

Henning's anniversary date with the county is in November, at which time he will reach the 15-year employment mark. Keeping him on for December and January will not affect Henning's pension, so we see no reason that Henning should stay on past November.

We recommend that the council instruct Waldrop to ask Henning to submit his resignation immediately, effective on his anniversary date in November, and step up the search for his replacement, who will be paid between $18,235 and $24,437 a year. Henning's salary is about $34,000.

If Waldrop will not follow the council's instructions, it might be time for the city's leaders to re-evaluate Waldrop's continued employment, paying particular attention to his apparent lack of decisiveness and an inability to understand that his role as city manager is sometimes going to be fraught with unpleasant judgments.

An even-better solution might be for Henning to resign on his own, effective in November. It would save him the indignity of further public criticism, and get his boss out of a sticky situation with the council.

But most important, it also would save taxpayers some money while restoring confidence in the city's building department.

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