Local News

Commission funds new sheriff's office

SEBRING - Highlands County commissioners made official on Tuesday, juggling $4.7 million in Sebring Parkway money to fund a new sheriff's office.

First, though, they said goodbye to Office Manager Sue Kimmel, the first employee hired by the first EMS director before the program was even created. Ironically, the last speaker of the day was Troy Granata, a paramedic supervisor who claimed he was illegally terminated.

At her office on George Boulevard, co-workers call Kimmel "Grandma EMS," she told Highlands Today for a 2008 story. "I started here when I was 18."

She learned about the job from her mother-in-law, and started two weeks before the EMS program officially started on Oct. 1, 1975. Upon his retirement, her first boss Wayne Harris said he told Highlands County's first administrator that Rick Weigand would be okay as Harris's replacement "because he's got Sue Kimmel there behind him."

The current director, Harvey Craven, said every time he needed historical information about the agency, Kimmel was there.

"Thank you for your service, Sue, and enjoy your retirement," Commission Chair Greg Harris called out as Kimmel left the commission chambers.

Granata, a decorated, highly praised paramedic supervisor, was fired last year. Citing privacy concerns, Highlands County administrators won't say why he was dismissed, but Granata said in a January story that, at his doctor's suggestion, he had taken his wife's prescription. He later failed a drug test.

On several occasions, Granata has asked commissioners to investigate what he called an illegal termination, saying his bosses lied and perjured.

Commissioners said they were advised by their Orlando labor attorney not to communicate with Granata because he could use what they said against them in a lawsuit.

Two weeks ago, Granata swore that he was no longer represented by an attorney, would not sue the county, and just wanted to be heard. He promised to bring evidence to this meeting.

However, on Tuesday, Granata stood at the podium, repeated his charges against his former bosses and waved a compact disk which he said contained proof that they "lied five times under oath on this recording."

"I'm not going to give it to you," Granata said. "I'm going to give it to the media... You will be held responsible."

After Granata left the meeting, Commissioner Don Elwell said he didn't understand why Granta said he would provide proof, and then didn't.

Granata was named VFW's Florida Paramedic of the Year after working a horrific February 2010 charter bus accident that killed five and injured many of the 32 senior citizens on board.

Commissioners approved three resolutions to appropriate part of the $9.1 million in funding that will be needed to build a new sheriff's office.

First, $1.1 million was moved from Sebring Parkway Phase 2 to Sebring Parkway Phase 3. Phase 2, which is partially completed, stretches from downtown Sebring to Highlands Regional Medical Center. Construction has not started on Phase 3, which will eventually start at the 90-degree turn north of downtown Sebring and end east of South Florida State College.

The second resolution transferred $3.68 million Sebring Parkway Phase 2 to what is now designated as the Law Enforcement Facility Project.

Finally, County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete conducted a public hearing to buy two lots on Palmetto Avenue for $99,000. The county already owns a lot between the two.

Asked by Commissioner Ron Handley about drainage for a building with hundreds of employees, Gavarrete said waste water will be moved to a large pond on the south side of Sebring Parkway.

By a 3-2 vote, commissioners replaced Sam Timms, who resigned in October from the Tourist Development Council, with Michael LaMere. Both Timms and LaMere, of Sebring, represent the golf community, which draws significant numbers of tourists to Highlands County.

Elwell suggested Fred Leavitt, who has an arts background. Leavitt read a letter recommending himself as the only of the three nominees who has been a part of the marketing committee and who has been to every TDC meeting for the past four years.

During those years, Leavitt also pushed for an audit that showed arts should have received hundreds of thousands of dollars more in allocations than it did. Elwell and Commissioner Jack Richie voted no.