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Complainant: Ethics case against former Hillsborough leaders Bean and Lee clears hurdle

TAMPA — Those 1 percent pay raises former Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean gave herself and former County Attorney Renee Lee — and helped cost them their jobs — continue to haunt them.

The Florida Commission on Ethics has found probable cause that the raises constituted a misuse of office by both, an activist who filed a complaint says.

George Niemann, the Dover activist, said a spokeswoman for the Ethics Commission informed him about the probable cause finding stemming from a closed-door hearing by the body Friday. The Ethics Commission will not formally announce the outcome of the hearing until Wednesday.

Niemann declined comment about the findings, other than to say it should stiffen county commissioners' resolve to oppose reimbursing Bean and Lee for legal fees they amassed during a criminal probe.

That investigation, by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, concluded it could not be proved the raises were criminal.

Neither Bean nor Lee returned phone calls seeking comment.

Both could seek to settle their ethics case. Otherwise, an administrative law judge will make a recommendation to the Ethics Commission on whether they violated the law. If so, the agency could recommend a punishment for the governor to order.

Bean had been in trouble with commissioners over substantial raises she quietly gave her top deputies in November 2008 when the 1-percent pay raises were discovered by an auditor.

Bean had said the 1 percent pay hikes were given to all supervisors that year who heeded her call to submit reduced budgets. Because she and Lee had reduced expenses for their offices, she argued, they qualified.

But she said she made a point of checking with Lee first about whether they could accept the raises. Lee said the raises were essentially a benefit offered to county employees generally, and that their contracts entitled them to perks offered other workers.

Commissioners saw it differently, noting that under state law and the County Charter, they are in charge of setting the salary of the administrator and attorney.

The board cited those raises as cause to deny Bean severance when they voted to fire her in June 2010. They awarded her $191,737 for unused sick and vacation pay only. She is suing the county for roughly $265,000 plus interest she says she is owed since the FDLE cleared her of criminal wrongdoing.

Commissioners terminated Lee's contract a year after Bean was fired for what they characterized as a series of bad judgment calls. She agreed to leave without a fight, accepting half the roughly $300,000 she said she was owed in severance.

Bean and Lee are asking for reimbursement of a combined $130,000 in legal fees they say they amassed.

Complainant: Ethics case against former Hillsborough leaders Bean and Lee clears hurdle 09/12/11 [Last modified: Monday, September 12, 2011 11:32pm]
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