Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Hillsborough commissioners hire county attorney for $205,000 a year

TAMPA — Hillsborough County government has a new top attorney.

Commissioners agreed to contract terms Wednesday with former Tampa City Attorney Chip Fletcher, who will replace former County Attorney Renee Lee.

Fletcher, 43, got a two-year contract that pays $205,000 annually. He starts Nov. 12.

"I just want to thank the commission for the trust you are placing in me," Fletcher told the board. "I look forward to doing my best to live up to that in every respect you all request and rightfully demand."

Hillsborough has been without a full-time county attorney for more than a year since commissioners forced out Lee in June 2011. One of her former top assistants, Don Odom, has filled in since then and will retire next month after 28 years.

Lee had faced an array of accusations questioning her judgment, including blessing an unauthorized pay raise for herself and former County Administrator Pat Bean in 2007. Commissioners grappled for months with how to address the conduct of both, in part due to lucrative severance provisions in their contracts that made firing them politically unpalatable.

Fletcher's contract will make dismissing him without severance easier. While Bean and Lee had to commit a crime to be denied severance, he can be let go without penalty for general misconduct connected to his job. He can't be fired without severance if commissioners don't approve of the job he is doing, however.

Due to changes in state law, Fletcher is allowed only 20 weeks of pay if fired without just cause, compared with a year of pay for Lee and Bean. Commissioners also can withhold compensation for unused sick and vacation pay if Fletcher is fired for wrongdoing, under terms of his contract.

In another nod to tightening employment terms, the county will not be liable for legal expenses should Fletcher ever get investigated but not charged with an offense by law enforcement or another investigative agency. Bean successfully petitioned for repayment of legal expenses she amassed when the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the pay raises, but did not charge Bean or Lee.

Fletcher spent three years as the city attorney, ending last year, and worked in private practice before and after that. In his current job, he represents the county's bus agency, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, which ends with him accepting the new position.

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