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McIntosh's stock rose, fell on daily decisions

Paul McIntosh joined Hernando County as its top administrator two years ago and immediately set about tackling major issues.

He pushed for improvements in the county residential road paving program, began work on a budget that would cut the property tax rate and attempted to ease employee tensions with a reorganization.

Spats with commissioners were not unheard of, but by and large, McIntosh held a firm grip on his job. Even as board members faulted him for poor communication, they raved about his overall performance as late as last September. His chief detractor, Commissioner Diane Rowden, tempered her criticisms from earlier in the year.

It took only days for things to change.

McIntosh assumed that good reviews would translate into a big raise. He asked for 14.5 percent on top of his 5 percent annual increase, plus a four-year extension. In return, he got the disdain of residents and staff, and the doubts of commissioners, who said he sought too much.

That was the first time commissioners talked seriously about cutting McIntosh loose. In the end, he received a three-year deal, better benefits and no extra pay.

About the same time, the county government center endured an anthrax scare, later proved a hoax, that cleared the building. The mishandling of that Oct. 11 event by the administration, plus the punishment of two emergency management employees who challenged their assignments that day, further alienated commissioners.

Things cooled off after McIntosh backed down, only to flare up again in December when questions emerged about his dealings over the past year with utilities consultant Hartman & Associates. The county had signed several contracts with Hartman, all of which were kept below the dollar threshold at which the work would have had to be bid.

Angry and confused, commissioners asked the State Attorney's Office to look into the affair and trashed McIntosh's new contract in favor of a one-year extension.

Clearly worried about his future, McIntosh applied for the vacant administrator job in Marion County.

Prosecutors interviewed the major players during an inquiry, and decided McIntosh had done nothing illegal.

But within their report, prosecutors dropped a line that raised a new set of concerns. McIntosh had admitted accepting a round of golf with Hartman & Associates during a conference.

The County Attorney's Office looked into the matter and determined that McIntosh had violated the county's conflict of interest policy, adding later that it was a technical violation of a broadly written rule. Rather than punish McIntosh, commissioners deemed the rule "unfair" and asked for a rewrite.

Again, McIntosh seemed safe.

But days later, problems with the Emergency Management Department flared up after commissioners ordered the staff to resolve any disputes internally. Word came back that director Bill Appleby instead threatened his staff and volunteers.

Commission Chairwoman Nancy Robinson said it had become apparent that McIntosh's management style had led to chaos rather than resolution in emergency management and other areas in recent months. Change, she said, was needed.

Rowden maintained her longstanding opposition to the administrator, and on March 6 she and Robinson moved to dismiss McIntosh. The vote failed, 3-2.

When asked that day by commissioners if he had received any other gifts the board should know about, McIntosh replied that he would have to consult his attorney before answering.

Then, a story in the St. Petersburg Times last week brought to light more gifts for McIntosh: a free golf outing at the exclusive Black Diamond course in Citrus County provided by SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast chief Jim Kimbrough, a free Devil Rays baseball game and charity golf tournaments courtesy of Oak Hill Hospital, and a luxury seat on the 15-yard line for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football game paid for by Oak Hill and provided by McIntosh's friend, Dr. Robert Blackburn.

Research by the county's Legal Department determined that although McIntosh did not take any gifts that might be considered influential _ and therefore illegal _ under state law, at least two gifts worth more than $100 should have been reported as required.

Commissioners on Tuesday were given a few options: do nothing, fire McIntosh without a severance package, fire him with severance or go forward with a settlement proposed by McIntosh through his attorney. The settlement offer included six months of severance pay, insurance coverage and $2,000 in legal fees in exchange for McIntosh's resignation.

Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of the settlement.

_ Staff writer Wes Platt contributed to this report.