A consultant hired to investigate the county attorney says developments have made the job impossible.
By BILL VARIAN
Published September 10, 2003
TAMPA - First, the consultant hired to investigate Hillsborough County Attorney Emmy Acton wanted another $45,000 to finish the job.
County commissioners, after some tortured back and forth, agreed to pay KPMG in hopes of ending months of rancor and angst.
Now, KPMG is backing out.
In a letter to commissioners Tuesday, a KPMG partner says media coverage, requests from Acton seeking identities of her accusers, concerns for her health and continued expansion of their assignment makes the company's task "impossible."
"Based on these recent developments, we now believe it is impossible for us to obtain objective, uncompromised information - as we would expect or require," wrote KPMG partner Neal Hochberg. "KPMG hereby respectfully declines to accept the amended Purchase Order or to continue with the investigation any further."
Commissioner Jim Norman, a critical swing vote to keep the investigation going, expressed disappointment. He said the company should be forced to return the $60,000 it has already been paid.
"I think this ruins all the future relations KPMG will have with Hillsborough County," Norman said.
In a memo sharing the KPMG letter with commissioners, County Administrator Dan Kleman said he will present the board options for concluding the investigation internally, rather than seeking another consultant, by Sept. 17.
"This is the quickest way to bring the investigation to a conclusion," Kleman said. He said the board wanted the matter resolved quickly.
Acton has been the subject of a series of initially anonymous complaints. Employees accused her of missusing an office fund, failing to disclose all of the time she was out of the office and running a hostile workplace. Some have since identified themselves.
Meanwhile, Acton is on short term medical disability leave due to diabetes and is awaiting experimental treatment. She continues to communicate to commissioners through memos.
KPMG cited one of those memos in saying it could not finish the job. In it, Acton seeks information and documents about the complaints against her before she has an interview with KPMG, and also the names of accusers who haven't come forward.
Acton's request, plus media coverage, have affected employees' willingness to speak out, Hochberg said. A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation and expanding tasks also have hampered the company's efforts, his letter says. And KPMG said it is concerned that its interviews with Acton "could further exacerbate her medical condition."
Commissioner Pat Frank, an Acton supporter, said she should have access to the names of people accusing her. "If people don't have the gumption to stand up and identify themselves when they complain, then they shouldn't complain," she said.
Commissioner Jan Platt, who advocated a thorough investigation, said the county needs to resolve the matter because the allegations, anonymous or not, are serious. Among them are that Acton misused an office fund to get an employee divorce file, and used staff time to promote someone for the president of New College in Sarasota.