Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough clerk defends using federal money for bonuses

TAMPA — Over the past three years, her employees have seen their paychecks shrink and their colleagues let go.

So when Hillsborough Clerk of Court Pat Frank got a $1.1 million windfall from the federal government, she knew how she wanted to spend it:

One-time bonuses of $1,500 for each of her 784 workers.

"The morale has been very low here," Frank said Tuesday. "We don't pay a lot of money to people, and the economy has hit them hard."

The money comes courtesy of a settlement between the state's clerks offices and the federal government over how much the offices were due for processing child-support payments between 1998 and 2005. The state had argued the federal government had underpaid for the work.

Clerks offices racked up varying amounts in the settlement. At $1.1 million, Hillsborough's take was by far the largest among local clerks.

The other amounts included $141,000 in Hernando County; $33,000 in Pasco; and $97,000 in Pinellas.

Frank is the only local clerk using the money for bonuses.

She acknowledged she could return the money to the county, which finances nearly $19 million of her total $66 million budget. Frank said she felt that was inappropriate, given that her employees did the work to earn the federal settlement.

"I knew there'd be some reaction to this," she said, "and I think it's mainly from people who wished they'd gotten it."

Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist broached the subject during a budget workshop Tuesday. He expressed concern that the state or Legislature could retaliate against Frank.

The Legislature this year passed a new requirement that public employees pay 3 percent of their salaries into their pension plan. County clerks are banned from using state funds to give raises or bonuses.

"When no other clerk in the state is doing this, it makes Hills­borough County stand out at a time one of their primary funders has set policy for cutbacks," Crist said.

Frank noted that her workers earn on average about 2.25 percent less than county employees. That's because she began freezing salaries in 2008, before the county did, and her employees had to take a total of six furlough days in 2008 and 2009.

On top of that, her staff has shrunk from a little more than 900 in 2008 to 784 today.

Because of civil service rules adopted by the county, she said, the bonus must go to all workers, including the 60 employees who make $70,000 or more.

But she added that roughly half of her employees earn less than $32,000 a year.

In Pasco, Clerk Paula O'Neil said her office received $33,000 from the settlement. She hopes the money can help offset higher health insurance rates and keep workers from paying more in premiums.

"There's not enough money there to do much of anything else," she said. O'Neil also noted that Hillsborough clerk employees have had six unpaid furlough days in recent years while their counterparts in Pasco have only had to take one.

Hernando Clerk of Court Karen Nicolai said she would use the $141,000 to "help offset the unfunded mandate to redact court records that must be completed by next year."

Pinellas Clerk Ken Burke said he, too, would use his county's share for the redaction project.

Frank said she already has the money set aside for that work and didn't have any other uses for it.

"I'm firmly convinced it was the right thing to do," she said. She said her employees have sent her "wonderful e-mails and thank-you notes for it."

Times staff writers Bill Varian, Lee Logan, John Woodrow Cox and Curtis Krueger contributed to this report. Reach Jodie Tillman at or (813) 226-3374.

Hillsborough clerk defends using federal money for bonuses 06/14/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 11:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Editorial: A proud moment for civic involvement in Hillsborough County


    It took private citizens less than 24 hours to do what their elected leaders in Hillsborough County could not for the past three months: Find the moral fortitude and the money to move a century-old Confederate war memorial from outside the county courthouse. Thursday's achievement was a lesson in leadership to county …

    The Hillsborough County Commission dithered for three months over moving the Memoria in Aeterna monument from the old county courthouse.
  2. Fort Myers woman arrested for doing cocaine off iPhone in parent pick-up line

    Bizarre News

    A Fort Myers woman was arrested Tuesday after police saw her snorting cocaine off her iPhone while in the parent pick-up line at a Lee County middle school.

    Christina Hester, 39, faces two different drug-related charges, according to police records. [Lee County Sheriff's Office]
  3. Tropical Storm Harvey forms in Atlantic


    UPDATE: At 5 p.m. the National Hurricane Center said a hurricane hunter plane had determined that Tropical Storm Harvey had formed with sustained winds of 40 mph.

    Three tropical waves are expected to strengthen as they move across the Atlantic Ocean. [Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center]
  4. Editorial: Pinellas should join lawsuit challenging new state law


    The Florida Legislature has been on a cynical, constitutionally dubious quest to render local school boards powerless. The most direct assault is a new state law that strips school boards of much of their authority when it comes to the creation and funding of charter schools. It's time for the Pinellas County School …

  5. Editorial: Fix funding unfairness in Florida foster care system


    Many of the children in Florida's foster care system already have been failed by their parents. The last thing these kids need is to be failed by bureaucracy, too, and yet that's exactly what appears to be happening because of a needlessly rigid funding formula set up by the Florida Legislature. Child welfare agencies …

    The Legislature may have had good intentions when it came up with the funding plan, but it’s obvious that there is some unfairness built into it. The funding may be complicated, but the goal is simple: Making sure every child in need gets the help he or she needs.