Ethics panel clears ex-Hillsborough administrator Pat Bean
Florida’s Commission on Ethics dismissed charges without discussion Friday that former Hillsborough County administrator Pat Bean misused her office by giving herself a quiet pay raise.
The panel’s final ruling in Tallahassee is another victory for Bean in a two-year battle over whether she was corrupt in her decision to award herself a 1 percent raise without clearance from the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners.
"It's been a lot of hard work to get here," Bean said over the phone, adding that she's been stressed about health issues. "To have this be over is wonderful."
The dropped charge is in light of an administrative law judge’s June ruling that Bean may not have had "wrongful intent" when she authorized the performance-based raise, which was about $2,000.
Instead, the judge ruled, evidence suggests that Bean first denied herself the raise, but then reconsidered after consulting with then-county attorney Renee Lee, who also took a 1 percent pay hike and lost her job over the deal.
Lee, also charged with an ethics violation, advised Bean that the raise qualified as a benefit, which does not require county commission approval.
The judge reasoned that Bean, 66, shouldn't be faulted for following poor legal advice. The ruling prompted the panel to reconsider an earlier decision that Bean had behaved improperly in administering the raise that led to her firing in 2010.
At the time, Bean had been under fire for months from commissioners who believed she poorly handled budget challenges after the economic crash. The Tampa Bay Times exposed in 2009 that Bean had covertly awarded her top six deputies pay raises ranging from 7 to 17 percent in 2007 as other employees absorbed pay freezes and layoffs.
The drama escalated when the commission said the “illegal act” gave reason to deny Bean $316, 456 in severance pay.
A judge in a civil trial sided with Bean and the commission relented, voting 6-1 in March to pay her full severance plus $51,000 in legal fees on top of the $191, 000 already paid for unused sick and vacation time.
Lee, the former county attorney, will face the ethics panel on Sept. 7. A judge ruled that Lee broke the law and asked the panel to levy a $5,000 fine.
Dover activist George Niemann, who filed the ethics complaints against Bean and Lee, said he's disappointed but not surprised the panel followed the judge's recommendation to drop charges against Bean.
"Bean got away with unethical behavior by pointing fingers at the county attorney," Niemann said. "It's understandable that this would happen because of the way the laws are written. It's very difficult to prove unethical behavior."