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State's family agency fires local supervisor

The Department of Children and Families takes the action after months of monitoring the Citrus office. Among the reasons: sloppy paperwork and misuse of position.

The Department of Children and Families made it official Friday: Sascha Lipczenko no longer oversees the department's Citrus County office.

In fact, Lipczenko no longer has a department job at all.

Pamela Paulik, administrator for District 13, sent Lipczenko a letter notifying him of the change. Lipczenko, who had led the Citrus office the past five years, has 14 days to file an appeal.

Lipczenko has been in hot water for months, as department officials have chastised him for what they call sloppy work, failure to improve performance and misuse of position. Last month, Paulik reassigned him to the District 13 office in Wildwood while she considered her final move.

That move came in the form of a four-page letter that repeated the previous allegations and noted that neither Lipczenko nor his lawyer had persuaded Paulik to rule in his favor.

Paulik also declined to find a new job for Lipczenko within District 13, which comprises Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties. She had indicated that such a move was possible.

A reporter was unable to reach Lipczenko, his lawyer or Paulik for comment. Janice Johnson, a top district official, said the department might appoint an interim leader for the Citrus office; as it stands, Johnson and a Marion County supervisor are sharing oversight responsibilities.

Lipczenko was operations program administrator in Citrus, which means he supervised the 80-plus employees that the department employed at its Inverness service center, the large, pink building on U.S. 41 N. Those employees handle a myriad of social service tasks, such as screening for Medicaid eligibility, investigating claims of abuse or neglect of children, and helping to arrange foster care and adoptions.

Johnson and Jeanie Kittel started closely monitoring Lipczenko's work in March, and even met with him weekly for two months as part of a personal improvement plan that he was supposed to follow. The department instituted the plan because administrators thought Lipczenko frequently submitted sloppy work and was falling short in managerial duties.

The investigators were displeased with Lipczenko's improvement, and efforts to improve, while under supervision. They were disheartened to learn that, according to some of Lipczenko's managers, Lipczenko intimidated subordinates who might have given him poor performance reviews.

The investigators recommended that the department remove him from his post.

Lipczenko, while conceding he may have made some paperwork errors, indicated that administrators were being overly picky when reviewing his work. In some cases, he said, the administrators were plain wrong.

For example, administrators rebuked Lipczenko for using an acronym in a letter he wrote to a client and for failing to explain the client's rights to a hearing.

Lipczenko's lawyer, in a letter, noted that the client knew what the acronym stood for and that one of Lipczenko's subordinates had written a separate letter providing information about the hearing.

But Paulik, in her letter, once again noted that those cases were examples of a larger pattern and course of conduct _ not reasons in and of themselves for dismissal.

"When viewed as a whole, the pattern or course is significant," she wrote.

Paulik also wrote that Lipczenko, both before and during the review period, failed to:

properly assign tasks and monitor work flow in his office;

ensure that staff signed up to receive appropriate training; and

make certain that a department worker visited all children in foster care or protective services at least monthly.

Lipczenko's attorney, Felix Adams of Bushnell, denied that his client misused his position, as the department had alleged.

Specifically, officials said Lipczenko intimidated people when he expressed displeasure about the way they had evaluated his performance. During one meeting, Lipczenko asked his managers to raise their hands if they had completed a survey of his work.

"It is Mr. Lipczenko's position that there was no intent to elicit sympathy or to intimidate anyone, only an honest effort by him to obtain feedback from his subordinates so that he could address their concerns," the lawyer wrote.

Paulik reached a different conclusion.

At Lipczenko's request, she personally interviewed Inverness employees involved in the episode. She found the same thing that Johnson and Kittel had found before her.

"The interviews only strengthened the evidence that your comments and actions were reasonably taken by staff as inappropriate, intimidating and retaliatory in nature," Paulik wrote. "Your actions and attitude toward certain employees . . . indicate that your words and actions at the staff meeting were intended by you to be intimidating and retaliatory."