Citrus County recently underwent significant changes in its administrative ranks. Steve Howard, the County Administrator, made the tough decision to dismiss two prominent directors from their roles. These actions have raised eyebrows, emphasizing the importance of leadership, collaboration, and ethical behavior in county operations.
Steve Howard took on the role of Citrus County administrator late the previous year, succeeding the late Randy Oliver. He has since been proactive in making difficult choices for the county’s benefit.
Mary Jensen’s Dismissal
Mary Jensen had been serving as the Public Works Director for a period of 13 months when she faced the axe. She was initially brought into the fold by Howard’s predecessor, Randy Oliver. Her dismissal was first brought to the public’s attention by the Citrus County Chronicle.
The Reason Behind the Decision
In an email sent to the Commissioners, Howard stated: “Leadership must set the expectations to all employees and a culture of collaboration is critical to the success of Citrus County. This decision was not taken lightly.”
John Pricher’s Eventful Journey
John Pricher’s journey as the Tourism Director has been marred with controversies. He faced a three-day suspension in February for an alleged misuse of the county’s credit card during a tourism event held in London. Officials highlighted his inability to segregate personal and county expenses.
Cincinnati Zoo Controversy
A more notable incident revolved around a $50,000 manatee promotion at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Despite clear indications from the County Commissioners against the initiative, Pricher went forward with the promotion.
Following this, Howard offered Pricher an opportunity to resign, but Pricher declined. Discovering the intricacies of administrative rules, Howard realized he couldn’t directly terminate Pricher’s contract. The rule specifies conditions for the dismissal of individuals who aren’t working directly under the Administrator’s pleasure.
Disciplinary Hearings and Final Decision
The subsequent process saw Pricher attending two disciplinary hearings, each chaired by different department directors. Opting to postpone the first hearing, Pricher proposed a deal: he would voluntarily exit if the county granted him a 12-month severance package and erased the Cincinnati Zoo incident from his public employment record. Howard, valuing transparency and ethics, declined this proposal.
After both hearings, the officers in charge supported the decision to let Pricher go. His termination was finalized on a Friday.
Following these dismissals:
Carlton Hall has been appointed as the Interim Public Works Director.
Frank Calascione, the County Economic Development Director, has been tasked with overseeing tourism responsibilities for the interim period.
The recent changes in Citrus County’s leadership positions underscore the importance of accountability, transparency, and the adherence to both ethical and administrative standards. As the county moves forward, the expectation is that such measures will foster a culture of collaboration and effectiveness in its administrative operations.