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Pinellas licensing board hopes to decide on Rodney Fischer's vacation payout soon

LARGO –– The governing members of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board hope to meet next week to vote on retired executive director Rodney Fischer's request to stay on the payroll through June.

A series of stories in the Tampa Bay Times has raised questions about the way the board disciplines contractors and how Fischer has managed the independent agency, which operates without any government oversight.

SPECIAL REPORT: Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board plays fast and loose with disciplinary process

Fischer told the county's legislative delegation this week that he was retiring Friday. In a letter to the board, he revealed more details: His official last day would be June 30, and he wants to collect five months of accrued vacation.

SPECIAL REPORT: Pinellas licensing board leader Rodney Fischer described as a 'bully' and 'suspicious' in clashes with employees and county officials

The board must decide whether to let Fischer collect 1,164 hours of vacation time or only give him a payout of 696 hours. His annual salary is $118,000.

St. Petersburg building official Rick Dunn, the licensing board's interim chair, and several other public employees on the board want Fischer as soon as possible. He hopes to convene a board meeting on Thursday.

His "inappropriate actions ... have harmed the integrity and credibility of the entire board and its purpose," said Clearwater building official Kevin Garriott. "The sooner these matters are addressed and corrected and the focus turned back to the designated business of the board, the better for everyone."

Seminole Rescue Fire Marshal Michael Rodde agreed, saying: "He needs to go now, however they word it. The sooner the better."

Added Pinellas County Director of Building Services Larry Goldman: "It certainly believe it would be in the best interest of the public."

The licensing board, Dunn said, will not have an executive director in place on Monday. Anne Maddox, the administrative manager and Fischer's top aide, will manage the office staff until an interim director takes over, Dunn said.

Maddox "will contact me with any executive questions until (the interim) position is filled," Dunn said. "We will hire an interim director as soon as possible."

Fischer's yearly employment contract ends June 30. Fischer has repeatedly told the Times since August that he only answered to the board, not county officials. He called his retirement request a "minor issue" this week.

Fischer also questioned whether the board could oust him early, without the compensation he says he is owed.

"I earned it," Fischer said. "It's part of my package. I would hope that they follow the procedures that the (county commission) has set up."

Fischer has challenged the Times findings, but declined to respond to questions from the newspaper regarding its investigation.

Two other board members, an attorney and a plumber, said they did not want to comment until a meeting is held to learn all possible details.

A spokesman for the state retirement system said Fischer has not yet requested any information on his retirement benefits after spending nearly 16 years as executive director.

The board of directors consists of 21 men –– 14 are private contractors who volunteer. The other seven are building and fire officials from across the county.

Currently, seven seats remain vacant because of a dispute between the Pinellas County Commission and Fischer over board appointments. Eight candidates didn't know they had been nominated until they were contacted by the Times. Pinellas County commissioner Charlie Justice called it an attempt to "rig the system" for candidates favored by Fischer.

Justice called for the Florida Legislature to reform the board, which has no government oversight. But Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, vetoed any reform legislation, saying that Fischer's departure and the arrival of a new leader is good enough for now.

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.

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