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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Ethics Commission finds probable cause against former Hillsborough administrator and attorney, complaint filer says

12

September

The Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause that former Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean and former County Attorney Renee Lee misused their office by accepting stealth pay raises without their board's approval, the person who filed the complaint says.

George Niemann, the Dover activist who filed the complaint, said Monday that he was notified by an Ethics Commission's spokeswoman about its findings after a closed-door hearing that took place Friday. The Ethics Commission will not formally announce the outcome of last week's hearing until Wednesday and doesn't formally disclose anything about complaints it fields until that time.

Former Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean had been on the hot seat for months over quiet and substantial pay raises she gave her top deputies in November 2008 as other county employees were getting pink slips. County commissioners asked former auditor Jim Barnes to look into the matter and he discovered that Bean had given herself and Lee secret 1 percent pay raises a year earlier.

Both said the raises were given to all supervisors who heeded Bean's call to cut the budgets in their own offices. Lee specifically offered an opinion saying the raises were essentially a benefit and that she and Bean qualified for it because their contracts stipulated that they were entitled to all benefits any other county employee got.

Problem is, under state law and the county's charter, commissioners set the salary of the administrator and attorney. Niemann claims both violated the public trust by essentially giving themselves pay raises without board approval.

From here, the case will go to an administrative law judge who will make a recommendation back to the Ethics Commission on whether there was an actual violation of state law. In the alternative, Bean and Lee could seek to settle their cases with the Ethics Commission. If that doesn't happen and if the Ethics Commission finds there was a violation, it can recommend a punishment to the governor, who would ultimately issue an executive order.

 

[Last modified: Monday, September 12, 2011 4:28pm]

    

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