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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

D.O.T. audit questoned by workers - and now Florida's DEP is investigating

An audit into problems surrounding Lee County's Department of Transportation has just kicked off and workers are already questioning how fair it will be. The county manager ordered an independent audit after a Four in your Corner investigation exposed many issues including questionable hiring practices.

So far, a Four in your Corner investigation has uncovered the following: Workers accusing supervisors of harassment, intimidation, questionable hiring practices and doing favors for family members. Workers were hoping this audit would address those issues but now they have serious concerns. D.O.T worker Bob Maxey wonders if the county will expose the real problems. He says, "You can only hide so much dirt, you know that rug you can only sweep so much dirt under it."

Lee County Manager Karen Hawes
Many county transportation workers question whether Lee County Manager, Karen Hawes, will really clean things up at D-O-T. Hawes promised she'd do a fair and unbiased review of the department saying, "The Clerk of Courts will do an independent audit."

That's why Maxey was surprised to see one of his own directors conducting Tuesday's meeting about the audit. Maxey says the supervisor, "just came in wanted to know what people's concerns were, how he could talk to people and find out what was going on and what was the safest way without retaliation. The vast majority spoke up and said it has to be a one-on-one, No one wants to do it in a crowd because of retaliation. It's not unbiased."

More than 100 employees attended the meeting and many now say they have concerns. Hawes called for the audit after a Four in your Corner investigation exposed questionable hiring practices at D-O-T and supervisors, such as Clay Simmons, are also accused of intimidating and harassing workers but he won't talk. Now all county officials have been ordered to keep quiet as well.

On Monday the County Manager issued a letter stating she has instructed her staff not to be interviewed further on D.O.T issues.
Maxey feels there's something wrong with that, "They want to shut you down ‘cause the last thing they want is this stuff to get out in the media. These problems can't be solved in-house, It has to be an independent audit." Maxey has faith that the County Clerk will do a fair audit as long as the media is keeping an eye on it. He says, "I believe that's going to happen with the help of Fox 4, I have no doubt this is going to happen."

Berner Home
 Meanwhile, there are even more problems for Lee County's Department of Transportation. State officials have opened up their own investigation into dirt that was delivered to the home of a D-O-T supervisor's family member.
This comes after Four in your Corner found D-O-T delivering tons of free dirt to the Berner family in Buckingham. The Berners happen to be related to two D-O-T supervisors; Shane and Jason Hinman. Workers say supervisors ordered them to deliver hundreds of truckloads of dirt and debris to the Berner's house but we found that property is located in a federally protected flood way. The Berners never pulled a permit and now Florida's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will conduct a site inspection to determine what needs to be done to correct the problem. County code enforcement has already said the Berners will either have to remove the dirt or hire an engineer to prove that the debris won't harm the environment. We'll stay on top of this and bring you the latest developments.

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