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Activist files ethics complaints against three Hillsborough officials

TAMPA — A neighborhood activist has filed complaints with the Florida Ethics Commission against three Hillsborough County officials.

George Niemann's complaints focused on County Administrator Pat Bean, County Attorney Renee Lee and County Commissioner Kevin White.

"What I've charged in all three circumstances is that they've used the power of their official office to gain benefits that they weren't otherwise entitled to," said Niemann, a board member for the United Citizens' Action Network.

Niemann said Bean and Lee abused their power by accepting 1 percent raises in 2007 without approval of the Hillsborough County Commission.

"It says in their contracts that no one can change the terms of the contracts except the board of county commissioners," Niemann said. "(They) changed the terms of their contracts without board approval. In a general sense it's the misuse of public trust."

Commissioners didn't know of the raises until an internal auditor pointed them out in a report released last month.

Bean and Lee have argued that the raises were part of a long-standing incentive program to reward employees who come up with ways to save the county money. They say they were nominated anonymously for the raises, but county officials have been unable to provide documentation of that.

Kay Starling, complaint coordinator for the Ethics Commission, said such complaints are confidential until thoroughly investigated, which could take several months.

But Lee said she was notified last week of the complaint, which Niemann filed last month. She forwarded a response to the Ethics Commission.

"I didn't ask for a raise. I didn't want a raise," Lee said. She also said she was under the impression that the commission had been told about it during budget meetings two years ago. She later learned that was not the case.

Niemann said he filed the complaint against White because the commissioner tried to use his office to gain sexual favors from his aide, Alyssa Ogden. A jury found White guilty of sexual discrimination in August. Ogden said she was fired for refusing White's advances.

Niemann said White also violated state statutes by sharing confidential information about Ogden, such as her cell phone number, with his friend, C. Blythe Andrews.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Activist files ethics complaints against three Hillsborough officials 10/12/09 [Last modified: Monday, October 12, 2009 11:10pm]
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