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Ex-Dade City inspector criticizes city's manager

The city's departing building inspector and his supporters told the City Commission on Tuesday that morale among city employees is low, and that the city administration is plagued with problems.

The inspector, Joe Creech, and other speakers blamed City Manager Richard Diamond and said employees lacked a way to air problems. Creech said he resigned because of his inability to get along with Diamond.

Creech resigned July 8. His resignation was effective Tuesday.

Local contractors and other citizens rose to praise Creech's expertise and fairness, and to ask commissioners to mediate a reconciliation between him and Diamond.

Mayor Charles A. McIntosh Jr. said the commission would take the matter under advisement but would not interfere with Diamond's right to make personnel decisions, which is set forth in the city charter.

Commissioners said afterward they still had confidence in Diamond.

"When you come in and make changes, this kind of backlash often occurs," said Diamond, who was hired three years ago. "It's not entirely unexpected."

Diamond has gotten good evaluations from the commissioners, who pressured his predecessor, Ben Bolan, to resign.

Creech, who was hired four years ago by Bolan, got satisfactory reviews from Diamond and another supervisor.

However, Diamond directed Creech to improve in certain areas, including finishing reports on time.

Tuesday, Creech and his supporters offered few specific complaints about Diamond, inviting the commissioners to look for themselves.

"There are areas that need to be corrected," Creech said. "And you should look at why it came to that point."

Even some of Diamond's detractors conceded during the meeting that he had improved treatment of employees. He has started an employee recognition and bonus program, and held an annual employee picnic and Christmas party.

Creech elaborated on his criticism outside the meeting room when questioned by reporters. He said Diamond was micromanaging the city.

"No aspects of our jobs are done without his direct and personal supervision, period," Creech said. "When you hire people who are qualified, you do not need to manage them day to day."

That complaint follows similar remarks made by city planner Samuel L. Williams, who announced in May he will resign next month.

Creech told the Times he asked Diamond for more latitude but was turned down; Diamond said Creech never made such a request.

In his remarks to the commissioners, Creech said garbage has accumulated on city streets since last year, when the city hired a private company, Waste Management, to haul it.

Some residents haven't followed rules requiring bundling of refuse, so Waste Management hasn't picked it up, Creech said.

Creech said he wanted to fine those property owners. But Diamond overruled him and directed a city garbage truck to pick up the garbage.

Diamond said Wednesday the city had no power to cite property owners, because unbagged yard clippings sit at curbside in the public right of way.

People gradually are growing used to the bundling rules, he said.

In addition, Creech said the city failed to prevent an oil leak at the city's sewage treatment plant two months ago.

The leak from a 55-gallon drum was contained in a concrete pit at the plant, but the cleanup will cost at least $8,000.

Diamond said the drum was found through a safety program started under his administration, and started leaking only when it was moved for testing.

Commissioners said afterward that Diamond briefed them about the leak.

Diamond said some of the criticism aimed at him represented a predictable backlash to his attempt to streamline departments and increase accountability of employees.

Creech told the commissioners he simply was trying to make constructive comments and had not organized opposition to Diamond.

"I know why the employees don't speak up . . . they're afraid to," Creech said.

He and other speakers suggested that the city set up a grievance procedure where department heads like Creech could take complaints about the city manager.

Pasco County has such a system, but it specifically exempts management employees.

Dade City's non-uniformed employees are not unionized, and union grievance procedures typically do not apply to managers.

The city manager has the right to run his operation as he sees fit, Mayor McIntosh said. Diamond said Wednesday he would oppose a grievance committee as interfering with that perogative.

But, McIntosh said, "If we find it's not working right, then it's our obligation to straighten it up. . . . I don't know what the problem is, but we'll find out."

"What many (city) employees have told me is that you're isolated," Glen Greenfelder, a lawyer in Dade City, told the commissioners.

"We're a strong, growing area right now, and we don't need dissension among the management of the town. This is the time when we should be pulling together."