As Hillsborough County's new supervisor of elections, Earl Lennard becomes one of the highest-paid public employees

Earl Lennard has his picture taken by others after being sworn in as Hillsborough County supervisor of elections. Lennard was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to fill a vacancy after the death of Phyllis Busansky, who had been elected in November.

ATOYIA DEANS | Times

Earl Lennard has his picture taken by others after being sworn in as Hillsborough County supervisor of elections. Lennard was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to fill a vacancy after the death of Phyllis Busansky, who had been elected in November.

TAMPA —Earl Lennard said it was his commitment to public service that pulled him out of retirement to become Hillsborough County's new supervisor of elections.

But the job also makes him one of the county's most highly paid public officials.

He will earn $299,948 a year in publicly funded salary and retirement benefits, which includes his new $132,000 salary plus a $167,948 pension as Hillsborough County's former school superintendent.

The son of a farmer, Lennard said he knows how some people might perceive his income.

"I'm from a working-class family," Lennard said. "I understand the sensitivity. This amount of money seems like a tremendous amount."

Yet he says it's a fair sum that doesn't cost taxpayers extra. If he wasn't hired as supervisor, someone else would be paid the same salary, he said. His retirement benefits would remain unchanged.

Both his salary and pension benefits are set by the government.

"I've been fortunate in being successful as far as compensation," Lennard said. "I assure you, any compensation I will receive as supervisor, I will earn. If someone has earned their retirement in a 40-plus year period, they have earned that retirement. If they take a job in another capacity, they should be able to earn that compensation, too."

Lennard will disclose his finances this week in a document required of constitutional officers by the state that will detail his income, including a tax exemption on 16 acres of land in Riverview. He said he raises cattle on the land, making it eligible for an agricultural tax break that saved him about $9,000 last year, according to the county's property appraiser office.

Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Lennard as elections supervisor on Tuesday to replace Phyllis Busansky, who died three weeks ago of natural causes.

Lennard, 67, has pledged he will continue the work started by Busansky to restore confidence in an office that had been supervised by Buddy Johnson, who is now under investigation by the FBI.

Lennard retired in 2005 with a pension that credited him with 41 years in the county's school system. He spent 15 of those years as a teacher. That was followed by nine years as the supervisor of the county's vocational agricultural programs, then four years as the assistant superintendent for vocational, technical and adult education followed by two years as assistant superintendent for administration. He served a few months as deputy superintendent before stepping up to be school superintendent from 1996 to 2005.

Those years of service were factored into a retirement pension formula that counted his five highest salaries, all of them earned as superintendent. His initial monthly payment of $12,634 has increased every year by 3 percent because of a cost-of-living adjustment.

In retirement, Lennard wasn't idle.

Last year he earned about $24,000 as a consultant with the Brandon Community Advantage Center, which is being built now and will house civic and educational facilities. He also was paid about $12,000 as a consultant for Energy Education Inc., a Dallas company that gives advice on how to conserve energy.

Lennard said he severed his ties to both upon his swearing in Wednesday as elections chief.

He and his wife, Annabel, own a three-bedroom house near Gibsonton with a taxable value of about $232,000. Lennard said he wants to build a new house on 16 acres in Riverview he bought in 2002 for $250,000. Its value was estimated at about $500,000, but it was credited with an agricultural tax exemption, so the 2008 tax bill was $62. Buddy Johnson also received an agricultural tax break when he was elections supervisor.

Lennard said he spends about 10 to 15 hours maintaining the property himself, and will continue to do so even as supervisor.

"I worked hard all my life," Lennard said. "Yes, I've accumulated some things because I've been prudent in my lifestyle. But money doesn't drive me, particularly at this time."

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at mvansickler@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3402

As Hillsborough County's new supervisor of elections, Earl Lennard becomes one of the highest-paid public employees 07/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 16, 2009 12:42am]

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