Is Bob DiCecco the most dishonest civil servant
in Hillsborough County?
Supreme Court Justice Brandeis, in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928), wrote a very eloquent passage concerning the conduct of civil servants:
"Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our Government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy."
The Florida Statutes set forth the Code of Ethics for Public Officials and Employees in Sections 112.311-112.326. For example, in Section 112.311(6), it states:
“It is declared to be the policy of the state that public officers and employees, state and local, are agents of the people and hold their positions for the benefit of the public. They are bound to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the State Constitution and to perform efficiently and faithfully their duties under the laws of the federal, state, and local governments. Such officers and employees are bound to observe, in their official acts, the highest standards of ethics consistent with this code and the advisory opinions rendered with respect hereto regardless of personal considerations, recognizing that promoting the public interest and maintaining the respect of the people in their government must be of foremost concern.“
Likewise, the Hillsborough County Statement of Ethics sets the standard that:
County employees are to “demonstrate and be dedicated to the highest ideals of honor and integrity in all public and personal relationships to merit the respect, trust and confidence of government officials, other public officials, employees, and the public.”
As a citizen, I expect civil servants to behave in an ethical, honest and professional manner. Public service is a public trust.
When this page was created, Bob DiCecco was employed by the Hillsborough County Public Utilities Depart (PUD) as the Cross-Connection Control Coordinator. (He has now been reassigned to other duties.) His responsibility was to administer the provisions of County Ordinance 03-6, which deals with Cross-Connection Control and Backflow Prevention. And while administering the ordinance, he was expected to abide by all laws affecting civil servants. Before being employed by the County, DiCecco was a plumber. The installation (up to $695) and yearly testing & maintenance (up to $840) of backflow valves is a lucrative source of income for plumbers. Some have suggested that DiCecco retains an affinity for helping out his old plumbing buddies while disregarding his position as a civil servant committed to serving the public.
Please note that the content of all of the following incidents is based entirely on internal Hillsborough County emails and documents and on newspaper articles.
Is Bob DiCecco the most dishonest civil servant
This is from an Observer News article :
"In Sun City Center, another homeowner had a similarly unpleasant encounter with [DiCecco] in connection with the backflow valve. Wendell Spencer, whose home also borders a lake, contacted the county department trying to locate a permit number related to a plumbing job done several years ago. In the course of the conversation, Spencer, who was not aware of the backflow valve ordinance, acknowledged his secondary watering system for irrigating his landscaping. He was not cited for any violation, he said, but the next day the plumber who did the original job appeared at the Spencer home, although no one in the family had contacted him. The local plumber wanted $695 to install a backflow valve and additional money to provide a camouflaging artificial rock, Spencer said.”
Commentary: Well, so much for the County’s Statement of Ethics that requires a County employee to perform his duties without favor and to respect and protect privileged information. No County employee, not even the County Commissioners, can throw business to a particular vendor. Do you think DiCecco is on the take by supplying this kind of information to throw business to a plumbing buddy? If DiCecco isn't on the take from this particular plumber, why would he violate the County's Code of Ethics by throwing business the plumber's way? What do you think? Is DiCecco on the take?
In September of 2007, DiCecco, using County equipment and when he was suppose to be working, sent the following email to Dale Strong and Shane Dillard.
"Hillsborough County's Cross Connection Ordinance is being challenged … Your support [to write letters to the County Commissioners] in this matter is appreciated."
At the time, these two people were affiliated with plumber supported associations that advocated the installation of backflow valves. And, by golly, both of them did write letters to the County Commissioners!
Commentary: Of the eight incidents reported on this webpage, I consider this one to be the most egregious. DiCecco should have been fired on the spot. DiCecco was lobbying the Commissioners via Messrs. Strong and Dillard. County employees cannot engage in lobbying activities unless that is part of their job description and they are registered as lobbyists. That is not in DiCecco’s job description – nor is he a registered lobbyist. He is not being paid to organize letter writing campaigns to influence the County Commissioners, when he is suppose to be working. In addition, his activities violated a number of statutes concerning separation of power. And from an ethical standpoint, it demonstrated an extreme lack of judgment. And yet, he still has a job with the County! Do you think a citizen can get a fair hearing if a public servant is using the County’s equipment when he is suppose to be working, to push his own agenda for his personal gain? If DiCecco wasn't aiming for personal gain, why would he unethically and illegally pursue this lobbying effort? What do you think? Is DiCecco on the take?
This is from an Observer News article :
"Frank Burton, a resident in Sun City Center’s St. Andrews section is among the most recent homeowners to receive Notices of Inspection from a county inspector fielded by Robert DiCecco, Hillsborough’s cross connection control coordinator. The reason, Burton said, is that his property has a shallow well and small pump used for landscape irrigation. Burton said that on September 5 his wife noticed a county vehicle parked near his home, its occupant observing the property. A short time later, the inspector stuffed two Notices into his front door, he added. The first gave him 48 hours to provide certification of no cross connection between the county water lines and the irrigation system, the second required response/installation in 21 working days of a backflow valve to prevent any contamination of the public water supply from the certified non-existent cross connection.
The article ends by noting:
“The Observer has endeavored for more than a week to speak with DiCecco about the various issues raised by residents. However, the cross connection coordinator could not be reached by telephone and did not respond to messages.”
Commentary: DiCecco’s disregard for the ordinance’s requirements and failing to respond to a reporter’s inquiries are very troubling, as is the possible backdating of the Notice. Do you think that DiCecco's backdating of the Notice might have been a clumsy attempt to speed-up an installation in order to get his kickback money sooner? If DiCecco isn't on the take, why did he do these things - particularly his disregarding of the ordinance's requirements? What do you think? Is DiCecco on the take?
This is from a St. Pete Times article:
“DiCecco says the county's backflow valve requirements stem from a federal law.”
DiCecco also repeated this statement to a group of Valencia Lakes residents at a meeting where I was also in attendance. After he sat down, I mentioned to him that there is no federal law requiring backflow valves. He just smiled. And even Les O’Brien, a Senior Training Specialist with the University of Florida, has warned DiCecco that “The Feds do not have rules requiring how a CCC [cross-connection control] program must be administered.” And yet, DiCecco persists! DiCecco's boss wrote to me that there are federal laws that allude to the need for backflow valves. But the fact is, there are no federal laws that require residential backflow valves!
And, a person has to wonder, if there were some federal laws that mandate residential backflow valves, how come some states exempt all residential customers from backflow prevention devices. These states include Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, Utah and Wyoming. The Wyoming rule is very succinct as to why: "The prevention of one death in 143 years at a cost of $1.3 billion dollars does not justify the mandatory installation of back flow devices on residential and domestic non-residential services."
Do you think it's appropriate for a County employee to shade the truth for his own personal gain? If DiCecco isn't doing this for personal gain, why would he lie about the federal government's requiring backflow valves in residential areas? What do you think? Is DiCecco on the take?
In a June 19, 2007 email, DiCecco wrote:
“The Utilities customers have the prime responsibility of preventing contaminants and pollutants from entering the private properties water supply system, and from entering Hillsborough County water distribution system “the public water main”. The Utilities customers shall protect its water supply system against actual or potential cross connection, backflow or back Siphonage. The Utilities customers shall assure that all protective devices are tested and maintained in the working condition required.”
This is in stark contrast to what Director Vanderploog, head of the Public Utilities Department and DiCecco's ultimate boss, wrote a few months later:
“… as system operators we have the safety and well being of our customers at the top of our list. Thus, we fully accept the responsibility to police our operating systems and stand accountable for the system's operation. … I would not expect our customers or other external agencies to be responsible for the operational issues, to include water quality, safety, etc., associated with the operation of the County's potable water system.”
Commentary: These completely opposite viewpoints of who’s responsible for the safety of the public drinking water supply are quite understandable. If citizens are responsible, then we are the ones that have to come up with the money to pay DiCecco’s plumbing buddies to install and annually test & maintain the backflow valves. On the other hand, if the County assumes the responsibility for the safety of the public water supply, as Director Vanderploog wrote, then the installation, testing and maintenance of the valves would be economically done by County employees, not DiCecco’s buddies. Do you think that there is the possibility that DiCecco’s pressed his agenda because he is indeed getting a kickback from his plumbing buddies? If DiCecco made this statement to put the homeowner in the position of having to pay to have a backflow valve installed by his plumbing buddies, with a possible kickback scheme, why would he try to put the responsible for protecting the contamination and pollution of the public water mains on the homeowner? What do you think? Is DiCecco on the take?
Incidentally, of these two viewpoints, the Director's statement is correct! Both the federal and state Clean Water Acts make the water utilities responsible for delivering a safe product to their customers. Even the official Manual that accompanies Hillsborough County Ordinance 03-6 is quite clear in Section C102.2 that "The water purveyor is primarily responsible for the prevention of contamination and pollution of the public water mains." You can't get much more precise than that!
The map on the left shows the number of residential backflow valve Notices in Hillsborough County by zip-code from the middle of 2007 to the middle of 2008. To keep the map from becoming too cluttered, I skipped the zip-codes that had three or less Notices in them. Notice how the Notices are sort of randomly distributed around the County (except for Apollo Beach), which is exactly what you would expect. Now, look at the map on the right which shows the Notices from May to October of 2008. See how the Notices are only in the communities of Apollo Beach and Sun City Center? Can you think of any reason for that curious pattern? Do you think that one reason could be that there's a particular plumber in that area that is willing to install the valve after a homeowner is cited by DiCecco - and then is willing to give a kickback as a way of showing his gratitude? What do you think? Is DiCecco on the take?
The Director of the Public Utilities Department told the County Commissioners that his department doesn't target particular areas of the county for backflow valve Notices because they're based on stale water complaints. About 1,000 stale water complaints per year come from all over the county. But then, from May to October, 2008, over 96% of DiCecco’s Notices were directed to homeowners in just Apollo Beach and Sun City Center. Do you think that we were the only ones who had stale water? Do you think that DiCecco might have misled his Director into misleading the Commissioners?
And here’s an interesting way to recognize just how small an area DiCecco targeted:
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