Expressway Authority gives Precourt until Friday to agree to month-to-month contract

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ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. —

The Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority has modified its offer to hire Steve 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.

On Wednesday, the board agreed to modify its 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.

On Wednesday, Channel 9's Christopher Heath attempted to ask board members about the state investigation, a topic they did not want to discuss.

"Are you concerned what Mr. Ashton may find when he gets into emails?" asked Heath.

"No, guys, we're not going to talk about the investigation, thanks," said Expressway spokesman Jeff Marshall.

Batterson, who in September led the push to force out then executive director Max Crummit, was the only board member to recommend hiring Precourt for a year, the very thing the State Attorney's Office advised the board not to do.

"Stability is certainly important to this organization moving forward," said Batterson.

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'll have until 5 p.m. Friday to make a decision on the new deal.

The Expressway Authority initially said Precourt would answer questions after the meeting, but when the meeting adjourned, he quickly left and did not return.

One of the concerns for the Expressway Authority is that if at this point they don't offer Precourt a job, he could sue them, since in good faith, they did already offer him the job, said Heath.

However, by amending the offer and putting it back on Precourt to make the decision, the Expressway Authority thinks it might be in the clear if Precourt decides to walk away.

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 does 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.