Osceola Clerk of Court defends self on controversial employment decisions

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OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - The Osceola County clerk of court answered questions during a news conference Thursday about some controversial hires and firings he has made since taking office.

Armando Ramirez fired several top-ranking officials who had years of experience.

Some critics said he is not qualified to do the job.

In February, he dismissed his second in command, Beau Osbourne, who then accused Ramirez of doing little at work to earn his taxpayer-funded salary of $128,000.

WFTV reporter Nancy Alvarez spoke with Osbourne.

Alvarez: "What does he do all day?"

Osbourne: "He reads [The] New York Times."

Alvarez: "The clerk of court of Osceola County spends the day reading the newspaper?"

Osbourne: "Yes."

Ramirez quickly dismissed the accusations and said Osbourne was fired for interfering with his directives and making decisions behind his back.

"We are full of integrity in this office. Any person that deviates from this goal ... will be deal with," Ramirez said.

But Osbourne was also critical of Ramirez's decision to hire his son's girlfriend as his assistant.

"The only thing she is responsible for is checking his email, his hand mail and keeping his calendar," said Osbourne.

"How much is she paid?" asked Alvarez.

“Fifty-six thousand dollars a year," said Osbourne.

Ramirez defended his actions and said it did not violate Florida statute.

"She has excellent credentials," Ramirez said.

He said the salaries were justified because he's made smart budget cuts in other areas.

He talked about skipping pricey meals during business trips.

"I went to Publix, I bought some chicken, water," Ramirez said.

He said the office is running smoothly, mostly because of department directors he relies on.

Channel 9's Nancy Alvarez asked Ramirez how he manages 160 employees and Osceola's court system without a chief of staff. He fired his top aide two months ago.

Nancy: "Have you had moments where you feel you're in over your head?"

Ramirez: "You know the pressure is intense."

But Alvarez pressed him on some of hires, including his son's girlfriend.

He responded by telling Alvarez about ways he has saved money, such his decision to not order new printed envelopes.

"I told them put a label on the top of my predecessors and the address and type mine. I think, 'How much money did we save on that?'" said Ramirez. "Yeah, I believe we save $3,000."

WFTV also questioned Ramirez about his qualifications and he compared himself to Barack Obama, saying the president never served in the military, but he is still the Commander in Chief.

“We have Obama. He has never been in the military but yet he is the commander in chief,” Ramirez said.

Two other employees were later fired: the human resources director and a deputy clerk.

At the same time, former clerk Malcolm Thompson is suing to recover legal costs from a battery accusation by another employee. He wants the clerk's office to reimburse him $55,000.