The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors yesterday fired its controversial purchasing director, Charles J. Cedeno, saying his routine use of "profanity and vulgarity" in the office had created an "atmosphere of fear and disgust" within the $50-million-a-year contracting agency.
Cedeno, who recently angered Fairfax officials by making public allegations of improprieties and mismanagement in the county purchasing department, immediately decried the county's action as an attempt to cover up governmental problems.
"I never intimidated anybody," said Cedeno. "They're just saying these things about me because I know too much about the place, and now the world's going to know more."
While acknowledging that Cedeno is a "technically competent purchasing agent," acting county executive J. Hamilton Lambert told Fairfax supervisors a personnel department probe had found evidence that Cedeno:
Routinely used profane, vulgar and abusive language in addressing subordinates;
Applied demeaning nicknames based on alleged sexual characteristics to members of his staff;
Made sexually suggestive comments to female members of his staff; and
Made obscene hand gestures toward both male and female members of his staff.
Lambert told the board that interviews with some 32 current and former county employes produced evidence that the allegedly offensive behavior had begun last July, shortly after Cedeno was hired as the county's chief purchasing agent. Cedeno had so intimidated his staff, Lambert said, that they failed to complain about his conduct until April for fear of losing their jobs.
"Mr. Cedeno's conduct has been such as to bring discredit on himself and discredit and embarrassment to his agency and to the county government," Lambert said.
Cedeno regularly speculated at staff meetings on the sexual conduct of specific members of the agency staff, Lambert said, and on at least one occasion referred to a staffer by name as being "gay" in the presence of that person's peers and subordinates.
Lambert also said Cedeno went out of his way to use the most offensive kind of obscenities before captive audiences of his subordinates, often before relatively large groups including both men and women.
Cedeno yesterday acknowledged that he had occasionally used profane language in the office, but denied any extreme or offensive behavior. He said the supervisors' 8-0 decision to fire him amounted to "being found guilty without a trial" and said an earlier county offer of a 90-day extension if he then resigned voluntarily had been withdrawn because he had hired a lawyer and taken his claims to the press.
"(Cedeno) didn't want to take part in the cover-up," said his attorney, Philip J. Hirschkop, who said he plans to file a federal civil rights suit against the county. "The price of state employment cannot be surrendering your federal rights -- that's what it boils down to."
Hirschkop charged that county officials had been aware of Cedeno's language, but had chosen not to pursue disciplinary action until Cedeno had publicly criticized cost overruns and improprieties by county officials that he said were costing millions each year.
'Sure the guy curses from time to time," Hirschkop said. "So do a lot of other people, but they don't get fired for it."
Earlier this month, Cedeno raised the ire of county supervisors with allegations that two supervisors had ignored standard contracting procesures in purchasing office furniture. Cedeno said the supervisors' behavior is part of a pattern of laxity in the county system which routinely allows cost overruns of up to 10 percent above county contracts with little or no official scrutiny.
While dismissing Cedeno's complaints as a "smokescreen" aimed at saving his job, the supervisors two weeks ago commissioned an audit of purchasing procedures by Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., that should be completed in two weeks.