OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. - Osceola County Clerk of Court Armando Ramirez finally responded to the controversy surrounding several high-profile firings, allegations of nepotism and other decisions he's made since taking office in January.
Ramirez's office called a news conference Thursday to address concerns from the public, but the new clerk avoided direct answers to questions he said he would answer. Instead Ramirez went off on awkward tangents, sometimes referring to himself in the third person, and ultimately justifying his decisions by saying they're all part of his job as clerk of court.
The clerk attacked the Orlando Sentinel for its reporting about his previously unexplained firings, including the recent terminations of deputy clerk Mary Rosado and former Human Resources Director Marta Moczo-Santiago.
Ramirez did provide some background on Rosado's firing, explaining that she had a long record of misconduct stemming from before he took office. He also added that the ultimate incident that led to her termination was some kind of dispute involving a medical issue. He would not offer any more details, saying he could not discuss medical information of former or current employees.
Meanwhile, Ramirez didn't offer much context to the other firings, instead saying that any new manager needs a team of his or her own.
When asked about why he hired his son's girlfriend Jennifer Soto at an annual salary of $56,000, Ramirez said she is "highly qualified," for her position in the clerk's office. Previous reports also questioned Ramirez's practices when it comes to the kind of access he gives his wife to the courthouse.
Ramirez said she is a volunteer and in accordance with that title has a card that allows her special access to the courthouse. He says she assists him in his daily duties.
Multiple media outlets asked Ramirez about the significant increase in salaries of two key staff members as compared to the previous clerk of court. According to Ramirez he spends significantly more than his predecessor on a staff assistant and a receptionist because the salaries are "competitive." He added that he's made other cuts within the office, but couldn't offer real figures.
Perhaps most unusual, Ramirez ended the media availability by saying "I'm tired." He asked the public to make records requests for any more details about the string of firings.
The clerk's office also mentioned they'd retained a laywer to fight a court case pending from former clerk Malcom Thompson. He's suing the clerk's office for lawyer's fees for his defense from allegations of battery while serving as an employee. He was later acquitted.
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