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Parks moving service ends

By JENNIFER LIBERTO
Published June 22, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - Department of Environmental Protection employees were ordered to move furniture for a colleague transferred from Sarasota to Tallahassee, part of a longtime practice that Secretary Colleen Castille officially halted this week.

The practice came to light when a citizen complained that "uniformed personnel" from the Florida Park Service appeared to be moving household belongings on state time.

The agency investigated and confirmed the complaint. Investigators also found that Park Service director Freddie Michael Bullock engaged in misconduct during the move, and that another employee, Richard Warner, a construction specialist based in Osprey, engaged in conduct unbecoming a public employee. However, no disciplinary actions were taken.

The only recommendation that resulted is that a new policy be written and staff be trained to understand that using park personnel to assist with moves is not allowed.

The situation surfaced with the move of the new operational services bureau chief, Robert Wilhelm, who has worked with the agency since 1979. Wilhelm was an assistant bureau chief in Osprey. He put in a request for relocation help after the state promoted him.

Wilhelm was moved the Thursday and Friday before Memorial Day weekend, one of the busiest weekends of the year for the Florida Park Service. About seven employees helped unload his things in Tallahassee. All were paid normal salaries and told to wear their park uniforms.

Some who knew Wilhelm had volunteered to help and traveled from Wilhelm's house in Sarasota. Four employees from Maclay Gardens State Park, just north of Tallahassee, were ordered to unload Wilhelm's belongings and were told that "if this works out right, it will look good for us," by Maclay Gardens assistant park manager Rob Lacy, who received the request for movers from Wilhelm.

Maclay Gardens employees get asked to help with moves so often, their nickname is "Maclay Moving and Storage," Lacy told investigators.

What made this move different was the way it was handled once a citizen complaint was lodged. Park Service director Bullock told his assistant to call Wilhelm and order all the movers to take off their Park Service shirts. Some didn't have undershirts and didn't want to work bare-chested. One Maclay employee, who originally balked at the order, was later ordered to wear a shirt of Wilhelm's, which was far too small.

"I felt like I was being strong-armed to do something that everybody knows is wrong, but since you could have 'perks' later on with the division, that this would look good to certain people that were higher up," Steven Harley, a Maclay Gardens groundskeeper, told an investigator this month. "I don't play that game."

Several Maclay employees said Warner tried to press the issue of making sure Park Service employees removed their shirts in a way that was "abusive, confrontational and discourteous," according to the report.

Several of those interviewed in the investigation said they didn't see a problem with state's using its own employees to move. Wilhelm said moving with a commercial service didn't reflect the nature of the Florida Park Service, which "is about doing a lot with a little."

In a memo asking the director of administrative services to revamp the policy, Castille wrote that using employees for moves is "not an acceptable practice, nor is it a suitable role for our professional resource managers and park operators."

Times staff writer Joni James contributed to this report.