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.

Background:

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
in Hillsborough County?

You decide!

 

Incident 1:

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?  

Incident 2:

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?  

Incident 3:

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 Notices were back dated by a month, Burton noted, both of them bearing an August 8, 2007, date of issue. The erroneous dating, however, is not the only problem with the Notices, pointed out Dave Brown, another SCC resident who has spearheaded efforts aimed at encouraging county commissioners to find another approach to protection of potable water. The Notices violate at least two sections of the county’s ordinance. DiCecco’s Notices demanding installation of backflow valves within 21 days contradict the ordinance he has said he enforces. The ordinance actually provides more than four times that timeframe for compliance. Section 4.3.2 of the ordinance states: “No customer shall receive less than ninety (90) days to complete the installation and initial testing of a mandatory Backflow Prevention Assembly.” In addition, the ordinance, in section 4.3.1, deals with notification of customers requiring backflow preventers. Notices are to be delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, thereby establishing an official date of receipt. DiCecco’s team consistently has placed Notices in doors. No South County homeowner known to have been cited has received that notice by mail, Brown said.”

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?  

Incident 4:

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?  

Incident 5:

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!
 

Incident 6:

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:

Hillsborough County is a square county with Tampa Bay occupying the southwest corner.
Consider the County scaled to the size of a baseball diamond
and plots of DiCecco’s Notices also to that same scale.

The dirt in the foreground is the batter's box. Midway back is the pitcher's mound. And in the background is 2nd base.

Now we're closer to the pitcher's mound. You can see some white cardboard on the mound.

And finally, we're out to the pitcher's mound with the maps drawn to scale of Apollo Beach and Sun City Center. The cited properties are in red.

These cited areas represent less than 0.2% of the county's area but over 96% of the Notices for May to October of 2008. Do you think that there could be a plumber that serves both of these close communities, who is benefiting from all those targeted Notices and might be showing his gratitude back to DiCecco? If DiCecco isn't on the take from a plumber(s) in the Apollo Beach and Sun City Center areas, why did he overwhelmingly targeted these homeowner areas to have backflow valves installed by his plumbing buddies? What do you think? Is DiCecco on the take?  

Incident 7:

In June of 2009, DiCecco wrote to Commissioner Higginbotham that:

"Contamination of the water distribution system by means of the backflow prevention assembly is unlikely, as it would require access to the assembly for an extended period of time and setting up very expensive equipment."

Less than a month later, DiCecco contacted the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Homeland Security and reported me to them, because I continued to give demonstrations of just how easy and inexpensive it actually is to contaminate the public water supply using backflow valves.

Commentary: If my demonstrations were irrelevant, why did DiCecco even bother to contact law enforcement?

And following DiCecco’s contacting law enforcement, I did indeed receive an unannounced visit from an FBI agent and a Deputy Sheriff assigned to terrorism matters. But after I showed them just how easily one can backflow deadly chemicals and biotoxins through a backflow valve directly into the public drinking water supply, they understood my concerns and became very cordial. They asked in a very nice way if I would remove material from by website about the ease of backflowing deadly chemicals and biotoxins. I agreed, provided that Bob DiCecco would stop targeting the elderly in our community with Notices. A week later the deputy called me back to say that he was washing his hands of the matter because DiCecco was unwilling to compromise. So the material was been put back on the website at www.backflowvideos.org .

Thanks to DiCecco, I now have an FBI record for speaking the truth! Could it be to DiCecco’s advantage, particularly if he’s on the take, to keep backflow valves in the mix and to denigrate anyone who advocates their being banned from residential areas? And if DiCecco didn't do this for his own personal gain - and if DiCecco doesn't realize just how dangerous residential backflow valve are - then why would DiCecco cause a citizen the embarrassment of having an FBI record that will stick with him for the rest of his life, just for speaking out? What do you think? Is DiCecco on the take?  

Incident 8:

On August 20, 2008, the County Commissioners passed a moratorium on residential Notices. And what happened in the two weeks that followed that action is downright disgusting! Because of Labor Day, there were nine working days. According to work records obtained through Florida’s wonderful Public Records Act, on six of those nine days, after DiCecco’s inspector finished his daily plumbing inspections, he drove back down to Sun City Center, and only to Sun City Center, and trespassed on private properties to compile a list of over 200 properties that were to be cited the instant the moratorium was lifted.

Commentary: I looked up the term "selective enforcement" on Wikipedia. It says that aside from being an abuse of power and inherently unjust, it almost inevitably must lead to favoritism and extortion, with those empowered to choose, being able to help their friends and take bribes. Do you think that it could be that DiCecco's intent was to preserve the testing & maintenance money for his plumbing buddy(s) in the Sun City Center area, with the possibility of a kickback scheme? And if DiCecco isn't on the take from a plumber(s) in the Sun City Center area and given that there are over 500,000 other homes in Hillsborough County, why would he overwhelmingly targeted just this one community with a census designed to have backflow valves installed by his plumbing buddies once the moratorium was lifted? What do you think? Is DiCecco on the take?

It is a felony for a police office to trespass in order to get evidence. I wonder if that applies to plumbing inspectors? An interesting aside is that DiCecco directed his inspector to trespass on private property to compile the list. And yet, when I had once suggested to him that maybe the County could take over the testing & maintenance of existing backflow valves, DiCecco huffed & puffed that the County could not trespass on private property. Do you think that, once again, DiCecco's intent was to preserve the backflow valve testing & maintenance money for his plumbing buddies in order to get kickbacks?

There you have it - a sampling of just eight of many incidents!

Sadly, the Hillsborough County administration has been totally unwilling to provide any sort of concise, studied and full explanations of why DiCecco did all of these things. A recent County email about this DiCecco webpage suggests that they are only concerned that I'm asking you to consider the possibility that he may be receiving kickbacks from his plumbing buddies. They don't seem to be concerned about why he did these things. I'm open to any other reasonable and truthful explanations. It's a pity that none have been forthcoming.

It's almost as if Hillsborough County is pulling their wagons into a circle and is unwilling to admit, apologize for and then fire one of their own employees who crossed the line of civil service behavior a number of times. But admitting wrongdoing doesn’t always come easy for the County. It reminds me of Fonzie on the old TV show “Happy Days”. Remember how he apologized? He had trouble getting those words out. He could barely admit he was wrong. “I was wr, wr, wrong”, he’d mumble. Click here. It was hilarious on a TV show, but not when it's Hillsborough County, it isn’t nearly as funny. Let's see some explanations for DiCecco's rogue behavior!

So, what do you think?

Is Bob DiCecco the most dishonest civil servant in Hillsborough County?

You decide!

rainbow


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