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Hillsborough commissioners take no action on ex-county administrator's severance demand

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners agreed Wednesday to pay the $51,000 legal bill their former administrator amassed during an investigation of a stealth pay raise she gave herself while on the job.

But they declined a request from Pat Bean for $278,000 in severance she says she is owed after being cleared during a criminal probe into the raises, taking no action on her demand.

An attorney for Bean said that may mean the matter is headed to court, though some commissioners hoped she will lower her request to be more palatable.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe did most of the talking. He argued that while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded it couldn't prove the Bean pay raise was a crime, it was still illegal.

As such, he said the county is under no obligation to pay Bean severance.

Bean's contract with the county before she was fired in June said she could be denied severance for committing a felony, a crime of moral turpitude or an illegal act for personal gain.

Sharpe said the 1 percent raises Bean gave herself and others in 2007 violated state law and the county charter, which say commissioners set an administrator's salary.

By definition, he said, it was an illegal act for personal gain. An act can be illegal and not criminal, he said, citing parking tickets or even certain maneuvers on a football field as examples.

"We set her salary, no one else," Sharpe said.

As for the legal expenses, county policy does call for reimbursement of expenses incurred by an employee accused of a crime as part of the job but later cleared.

Commissioners said they were obligated. But their unanimous vote is contingent on the Hillsborough County Bar Association reviewing the legal bills and finding them reasonable.

Ken Tinkler, an attorney for Bean, told commissioners they were obligated to pay his client's full severance now that she has been cleared of criminal charges.

He said Bean is willing to forgo reimbursement for legal expenses connected to her termination that were not directly related to criminal allegations.

He said the offer was good for Wednesday only.

"This is our offer today, to try to resolve this without further expenses," Tinkler said.

He noted that Bean got the raise after following the advice of County Attorney Renee Lee, who also got the 1 percent bump and blessed the award for both in a legal opinion.

The opinion described the raise, awarded to department heads who submitted budget cuts, as a benefit available to many county employees.

Some commissioners suggested they were willing to discuss some form of settlement, but said Bean's offer didn't reflect the reality that she runs some risk if she takes the matter to court.

"I don't see any settlement with the numbers you are coming in with," said commission Chairman Al Higginbotham, who has served as the board's point person with Tinkler.

An attorney hired by commissioners to help deal with Bean and other personnel matters said he was surprised by her request.

"I think she's got some risk … that may result in her getting nothing," said the attorney, Richard McCrea. "She's saying, 'Settle with me. I want 100 percent.' "

Commissioners fired Bean last year for what several characterized as a pattern of poor decision-making. They cited the pay raise in particular as justification for not granting her full severance.

Bean did receive $191,000 before taxes for unused sick and vacation leave after her termination.

Hillsborough commissioners take no action on ex-county administrator's severance demand 05/04/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 5, 2011 12:40am]
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