TAMPA — Hillsborough commissioners grilled County Administrator Pat Bean on Thursday over her awarding of pay raises to her top deputies in a time of layoffs and cutbacks.
One of the commissioners went so far as to question whether Bean "gets" the need for change in challenging times.
Commissioner Mark Sharpe expressed frustration for what he considers a lack of creativity in addressing the challenges. He said the pay raises have made him wonder whether the right people are in place to meet them.
"I believe you pay someone what they are worth, but good grief," Sharpe said. "In light of what we're dealing with, I'm asking myself, do we have the right people for dealing with the issues we're dealing with today?"
The St. Petersburg Times reported Thursday that Bean gave her six top deputies, each making well over $100,000, pay raises in November ranging from 7 to 17 percent. One, public affairs administrator Edith Stewart, got a $20,000 raise.
That decision came as the county was trimming hundreds of jobs in response to sharply declining property tax revenues. This year, Bean is proposing hundreds more layoffs and pay cuts for those who remain, many of whom have seen their duties grow to pick up the slack.
Sharpe's comments came after a budget workshop during which commissioners asked her to explain the raises, though Bean said she briefed commissioners before she awarded them.
"My question is, how do we justify this to the rank-and-file employees who are being asked to take on additional work and not get a pay raise?" asked Kevin Beckner, who was elected around the time the pay raises were given out and wasn't briefed.
Bean said the distinction is that, for at least four of the deputies, they received promotions. And each had been asked to take on extra duties, some of them significant.
"I had to be able to compensate them in order to get them to take on the additional work," she said. Employees who are promoted can still get raises, even in the down economy, she said.
Bean said she gave out the raises after eliminating three positions in her office, and is cutting more with this year's budget. And while four of the deputies were promoted, they are still responsible for the departments they oversaw before.
Although the raises increased the salaries of her six deputies by a combined $100,000, Bean said the resulting consolidation netted $400,000 in savings.
Commissioners accepted the explanation, even though some weren't entirely satisfied.
Commissioner Al Higginbotham said he was never told specific raise amounts when the reorganization was discussed. He asked that the administration alert the board to future promotions that come with pay raises.
"I was at two groups this morning and, I'll tell you, I got blistered for it," Higginbotham said. "One person said you guys look like those auto executives."
Commissioner Kevin White asked Bean to develop a possible incentive plan to entice some of the 337 county employees who have been working for 30 years to retire, clearing the way for younger, less highly paid employees with families. He presented a list showing that nearly a third of those long-tenured employees make more than $80,000.
"We need to keep our young people working who need the work," White said. "We have a great management team. We have a lot of great Indians, too."
The lone voice of dissent was Jim Norman, who noted that the county would lose lots of valuable experience. He said the county should maintain some incentive for people to do good work, and that includes getting a pay raise for promotions.
"If they took on five different (jobs), it's logical to me they would get some compensation," Norman said.
Sharpe said afterward that he feels the administration has not pushed hard enough to look for ways to streamline county services and combine efforts with other governments.
Bean said she is working hard on many fronts to make county government leaner. That takes time, she said.
"I'm very confident that the county administration gets the times that we're in and that this county will never look the same way again," Bean said. "We certainly realize we've got more work to do in streamlining what we do."