Sunday, September 28th, 2008 at 9:00am

The Little Man Stands Up

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Citizens for Better Government, L.L.C. was notified by a private citizen, Lee Johnson, about his concerns of how Lake County government was being operated and how experienced long-time employees were being forced out under the leadership of County Manager, Cindy Hall.  Mr. Johnson contends that he did not seek to investigate Lake County; however, questions and apparent improprieties were being brought to him by former and current County employees.  As a private citizen, he began researching Lake County to see if these issues had any validity.  He scanned over 10,000 documents, which included 50-plus personnel files.

After considerable time and effort, Lee Johnson compiled a three-ring binder of “Issues and Allegations” with supporting documentation.  He then contacted the Lake County Board of County Commissioners as well as both local newspapers to bring light to troubling issues.  He identified 69 different issues that either seemed to circumvent current County policy or did not pass the smell test in regards to personnel management.

Citizens for Better Government, L.L.C. contacted County Manager, Cindy Hall, via email to ask about what we considered to be the eight most troubling issues:

  1. The allegation that during a budget workshop with the Environmental Services Director in 2007, a financial summary presentation was ordered to be done so as not to show all of the expenditures and then present a revenue forecast, which included revenues already received by a contractor.  It was done to make the program look viable and was a deliberate deception of the Lake County Commission.  It was alleged a County employee was released for not cooking the information.
  2. The contention that under the County Manager’s direction and without the approval of the County Attorney that $4,000,000 in non-legitimate expenses (EMS) be included into the Fire Assessment.
  3. The allegation that Sharon Wall was forced out of Hillsborough County government and was hired by Lake County without a background check.  Further alleged is that she did not meet the education requirements for the job.  She has taken 142 sick days since her hiring in 2004 and has been rewarded with a 23% wage increase.  He contends that her personal relationship has created a buddy system which has resulted in the unfair termination of employees and an advancement of other friends.
  4. The allegation that Nadine Ohlinger had 15 traffic violations resulting in 19 points against her driver’s license.  In June of 2007, she committed another traffic violation which resulted in 3 more points against her driver’s license.  Since 2006, she has received a 19.6% wage increase and she still drives a County vehicle.  Our concern is the huge liability this puts Lake County in if she has an accident.
  5. The allegation that at time of hire, Jim Brannon was provided with a $450 per month vehicle allowance and was also provided with a company truck.  Further alleged is that when a Budget Director questioned the double pay, she was told to “mind her own damn business”.
  6. The contention that Jim Brannon requested permission to work 3 hours per week as an Architectural Consultant during nights and weekends.  County employees now indicate he is never at work on Wednesday and he is one of the highest paid Department Directors.
  7. The allegation that Gary Kaiser hired an immediate family member of one of the County Commissioners, which is a possible violation of Florida Statutes.   He says that Thomas Carpenter, an operations manager in public safety, is the nephew of Commissioner Cadwell.  If this is correct, does this violate a State Statute?
  8. The contention that Brian Schwartzman failed to implement 5 of 7 recommendations in an internal audit in 2005, but has received high performance evaluations.

Mrs. Hall’s response to our group was that Lake County would have internal and external audits, and at some point there would be a report.  When pressed to be more specific about her response, she wrote the following, “The internal and external audits are quite thorough.  I believe that our internal auditor told Mr. Johnson it would be a few months.  There was nothing in the package that rose to a level of concern.”  Hold on, nothing “rose to a level of concern”?  All eight of these issues are very troubling, not to mention the other 61 issues not mentioned.

The report completed by this private citizen is thorough and has direct documentation to back up most concerns.  Citizens for Better Government, L.L.C. calls for an immediate investigation of all issues.  It appears an atmosphere of intimidation, cronyism, and unethical behavior exists at the Lake County Courthouse, and it pains our group that good County employees have been subjected to such treatment.

It is also very disappointing that between May 19th and June 2nd of this year, Mr. Johnson met with each Lake County Commissioner as well as the County Attorney to address these issues, and he believes they put on deaf ears.  Where has the Commissioner been who has the guts to come forward and champion the cause for the hard working men and women of Lake County?  Some Commissioner needs to step forward and show some real concern about the troubling issues Mr. Johnson has brought forward.

Citizens for Better Government, L.L.C. encourages all former and current County employees to come forward and expose the corruption occurring at the Lake County Courthouse.  If you have information and wish to remain anonymous, you may email it to us and we will carry the cause for you.  It is time for us to go directly to the people and expose what is really going on in our government.  It has been reported that if you are a friend, buddy, or lover of the boss you get special treatment or a job.  This must end.

Citizens who bring legitimate, well researched concerns to our Commissioners deserve better than what Mr. Johnson received.  So, if Lake County is unwilling to address his concerns, we will bring them straight to the people.  Will you help us today by coming forward with information and spreading this email to everyone on your contact list?  If you seek change and a better Lake County government, it must start now!

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