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Former Hillsborough administrator Bean sues commissioners over termination payout

TAMPA — Former Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean sued her former bosses Monday, saying they owe her the full severance denied her last June when she was fired.

Bean's seven-page lawsuit claims county commissioners breached her contract when they fired her for cause and denied her payment for the full value of her severance.

Under terms of her contract, Bean was entitled to receive payment for a year of pay — $226,377 — plus the value of a year's worth of benefits if fired without proper justification. The county's Human Resources Department last year placed the value of the payout at $455,233.

That calculation included $191,737 as payment for unused vacation pay and a portion of unused sick pay, which all county employees are entitled to when they leave their jobs. That's all commissioners agreed to give Bean when she was fired.

Bean is seeking payment for the difference between the two figures — $263,496 — plus interest.

Her suit also seeks an unspecified amount to cover legal expenses she amassed defending herself against a criminal investigation and an ongoing ethics complaint, as well as the cost of this lawsuit.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe said Bean is mistaken in her demands.

"It's the people's money," he said after the suit was filed. "It's not her money. The contract was clear. She violated it. It's nothing personal."

Sharpe said Bean shouldn't be trying to get yet more tax money.

"I just don't think she has a right to reach into the public's pocket to get more money," he said.

Commissioners last year voted 5-2 to fire Bean from her job as chief executive of the county's government. They said she had exercised poor judgment and weak leadership during challenging times for the government caused by a bad economy.

They specifically cited a 1 percent pay raise she gave herself and then-County Attorney Renee Lee in 2007, without commissioners' permission, as justification to deny her severance. They cited a provision in her contract that said she could be denied the payout if found to have committed an illegal act for personal gain in conjunction with her county employment.

While Bean was still administrator, Commissioner Kevin Beckner asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the raises. The FDLE also looked into claims that Bean and Lee snooped through the e-mails of auditors who discovered them.

On both counts, the FDLE found it could not be proved Bean did anything criminal, in part because she had sought a legal opinion from Lee that the raises were kosher. Lee said that the raises, given to other managers who had cut the budget, were tantamount to a benefit to which she and Bean were entitled without having to seek board approval.

An attorney for Bean asked commissioners in May to pay her the full severance since she was cleared of criminal wrongdoing.

Commissioners said that, despite the FDLE findings, denying her severance was still appropriate. They said the raises violated the county's charter and state law, which give commissioners sole authority to set the administrator's and attorney's salaries.

Richard McCrea, a lawyer commissioners hired to advise them on how to deal with Bean and Lee, told commissioners at the same meeting that their position was defensible. However, he has previously said the timing of her termination, more than a year after auditors revealed the raises, could pose a challenge to the county's position.

Bean did not return a phone call to her home and attempts to reach one of her attorneys were not successful. An attempt to reach McCrea also was unsuccessful.

Times staff writer Tia Mitchell contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

Former Hillsborough administrator Bean sues commissioners over termination payout 06/20/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 1:11am]
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