BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County violated its own hiring policy by not posting a job opening for public safety director in-house before seeking outside candidates, Teamsters Union steward Dan Oliver said.
The policy states that, when a vacancy occurs, the Human Resources Department will prepare a board-only recruitment bulletin which allows employees a minimum of three calendar days to request consideration for the position.
If the county does not expect to receive at least three qualified internal candidates, it may post the position externally simultaneously with the internal ad.
Virginia Singer, the county's public information manager, said no such in-house recruitment posting was done for the safety director/fire chief. Singer said the county did not think that it would receive three internal candidates for the position so it was decided to post the internal and external ad simultaneously.
Singer added that the policy mirrors the Teamsters Local Union 79 contract.
Oliver disagrees and said there was more than a reasonable assurance that at least three local people would not apply. He said that was proven true by the 15 applications the county has received since the ad went out: four of them are in fire services from Hernando County and Brooksville.
"To say otherwise, that's just a cop-out," Oliver said. "It's almost like they were trying to handpick someone for the job."
The entire process was mishandled, he added, because the county has "plenty of qualified captains and firefighters."
"These firefighters have put in their time, they went to school and they have the experience. Definitely, (the policy) was violated. They should have posted that internally first."
Oliver believes the advertisement, which has a March 25 deadline to apply, should be stopped and the process for hiring reconsidered.
The requirement that the county advertise in-house for open positions first was added by former human resources director Cheryl Marsden and became effective on Feb. 11, about one week after then-Fire Chief and Public Information Director Mike Rampino turned in his resignation.
Oliver said the timing of that change is suspect.
County commissioners have already questioned the hiring process after learning that the educational requirements for the position had been changed to allow applicants who have only a high school diploma to apply.
County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said Marsden recommended the high school diploma requirement be added to the job description.
Marsden resigned unexpectedly Tuesday morning, saying she wanted to explore other career opportunities.
Dukes defends the process that led to the posting of the ad externally. He said the public safety director's position was too important to delay advertising externally. Besides, he said, internal candidates still had the option to apply even though the in-house bulletin did not go out.
"This is an important position and we can't afford to have it vacant any longer than necessary," Dukes said. "If it was an employee-level position that falls under the union purview, it would be different."
Dukes said the policy as written by human resources probably should have been worded to make the distinction between advertising in-house for management and non-management positions.
Dukes said he doesn't expect any legal issues to arise from this.
"If someone wants to challenge it, they're free to do so," he said. "It's a free country."
Dukes said he is aware of some of the questions surfacing about the matter but calls it a "non-issue."
John Sholtes, business agent for Teamsters Local 79, worked with Marsden through the years on contract negotiations.
"We simply did not see eye-to-eye regarding filling open positions," Sholtes said.
The problem, he said, was not so much with the posting of the advertisements as to what seemed like the preferred treatment given to outside candidates whose past work evaluations and attendance records were not given as much weight as in-house applicants.
"The county's method of filling open positions has been a sore spot with the union all around," Sholtes said.
It caused the union to declare an impasse and get a special magistrate about a year ago, he said.
"We strongly believe the county should hire from within first," Soltes said, "and, if they don't find anyone qualified, then go outside."