Precourt rejects Expressway Authority month-to-month contract offer

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Former State Rep. Steve Precourt has rejected a revised job offer by the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority.

The Authority recently modified its offer to hire Precourt as executive director, just as State Attorney Jeff Ashton warned the board not to.

Ashton said OOCEA leaders could have broken the law in the months leading up to their selecting the former state lawmaker to run the agency.

Ashton urged the agency not to officially hire Precourt or change leadership until Ashton's investigation into the actions of the three Precourt supporters on the board is done.
 
Scott Batterson, Marco Pena and Florida Department of Transportation district secretary Noranne Downs cast the majority vote to hire Precourt. But they also cast a sudden vote last year to force out interim executive director Max Crumit.
 
What led to that sudden vote is under investigation, and Ketcham said he suspects that is why Precourt turned down the job.
 
"I think he had some, deep down in his heart, he had some concerns about the content of Ashton's letter and what that meant to him and any job he would take was concerned, and he decided not to get in the middle of it," said Ketchum.

On Wednesday, the board agreed to modify its initial offer and gave Precourt until 5 p.m. Friday to agree to a month-to-month contract, instead of the $185,000-a-year-deal proposed earlier this month.

"By doing a month-to-month option even, splitting the baby, is a form of showing weakness and it will never end," said Precourt.

Precourt sent a letter to the expressway authority about two hours before the deadline they had agreed on at Wednesday's meeting. He called the shift from a five-year, year-to-year deal to a month-to-month deal in effect a termination.
 
Ketcham said that's just not the case.
 
"It's not a contract until the board approves it. The board approved a month-to-month. He didn't take it. I don't know what his motives are, but they are suspect. It's the same job, just month-to-month. It doesn't undermine his authority. Max Crummit did it on a temporary basis without any problem. He could do it if he really wanted the job," said Ketchum.

The board had offered Precourt a full one-year, $185,000 contract just days ago. Anticipating the new job, Precourt quit his position as a state representative, but with the Expressway under investigation for possible secret conversations, the state attorney asked them to hold off on any changes, so they amended the deal to a month-to-month contract.

But Precourt initially turned down that offer.

"I think you should make a decision to hire me today or hire someone else, and I'm quite OK with you going either direction," Precourt said.

But after some back and forth, Precourt and the board agreed he would have until Friday to make a decision on the new deal.

In a letter to the Expressway Authority, Ashton asked the board to hold off on officially hiring Precourt as executive director until the State Attorney's Office has completed its investigation.

Ashton said he has questions about the events that led up to the board's decision to hire Precourt and whether state law was broken in the process.

This could be the second time a grand jury is asked to investigate the Expressway Authority.

The first time the Expressway Authority was investigated, a grand jury found what it called a "culture of corruption," but ultimately recommended no charges.

This time, Ashton said state transportation officials also could be involved.

Precourt did not meet the minimum requirements advertised for the executive director position, but three other board members -- Scott Batterson, Marco Pena and Florida Department of Transportation District Secretary Noranne Downs -- cast the majority votes to hire Precourt anyway.

An Authority representative said the next steps in the process of hiring an executive director will be discussed at the next meeting of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority board, scheduled for Feb. 26.