TAMPA — Getting fired has turned into a hefty windfall for Pat Bean.
Hillsborough commissioners on Thursday voted 6-1 to abide by a judge's decision and pay the former county administrator her full severance: $316,456 plus legal expenses.
The amount of the legal fees is still unresolved. In December, Bean estimated the amount at $51,000. All that comes on top of the $191,000 commissioners already paid her in unused sick and vacation time.
For those keeping tabs, the total bill to county taxpayers is running well over $550,000.
"We need to look at this as an expensive lesson learned," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who wants the county to review its current contracts with administrators to prevent similar cases in the future.
The vote marked one of the last acts in a saga that began in 2009 when an auditor in discovered Bean had given herself a secret 1 percent pay raise.
Bean handed out the raises in 2007 to reward high-level county employees who had cut spending in their departments.
She testified in court last year that then-County Attorney Renee Lee sent her a note that she and Bean were entitled to the raise because it was essentially a benefit. Bean and Lee also had contract clauses entitling them to any benefits offered to other employees.
A Hillsborough judge ruled last month that the raise was not grounds to deny Bean her severance.
Like the Florida Department of Law Enforcement before him, Circuit Judge James M. Barton II found that the stealth raise was not criminal.
It was not even the more generic "illegal act" commissioners used as justification to fire Bean in June 2010 without giving her the payout, the judge ruled.
Commissioner Victor Crist voted against the payment, saying later that he thought the county should appeal the ruling and then try to settle with Bean for a lesser amount. He said it would have been worth the $300 filing fee.
"I think we could have settled with a 10 percent reduction," he said.
As Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober noted in reviewing the FDLE criminal investigation, Bean had sought a legal opinion that blessed her accepting the raise, Barton's ruling said.
At worst, Barton said, the raise violated Bean's contract because commissioners set her salary.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374.