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Hillsborough commissioners will explore ex-county administrator's money demand

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners want to know exactly how much money ousted County Administrator Pat Bean is seeking to at last cut ties with the county.

Commissioners on Wednesday gave their blessing for Chairman Al Higginbotham to contact an attorney involved in the case to determine the extent of Bean's financial demands.

"I don't know what she wants," Higginbotham said.

He said he hopes to have Bean's response for consideration at the board's next regular meeting in two weeks.

Higginbotham got a letter last week from an attorney the county had hired indicating Bean is seeking more money than what she got when her contract was terminated in June. Commissioners fired Bean from her job as the county government's top executive after castigating her for months for what they called weak leadership and poor decisionmaking.

Board members specifically cited 1 percent pay raises she gave herself and other top officials in 2007 without commissioners' approval as reason to fire her with cause and deny her full severance. As a result, Bean departed with $191,737 before taxes for unused sick and vacation pay instead of the $455,000 in severance she could have gotten under terms of her contract.

Her demand for unspecified additional money follows the conclusion of a law enforcement investigation that found Bean's pay raise demonstrated poor judgment but was not criminal. To deny Bean full severance, commissioners had to find that she committed a felony, a crime of moral turpitude or another illegal act for personal gain — and they cited the last provision as their justification.

Under county policies, she may be able to seek legal expenses she incurred during the criminal investigation, in addition to severance.

Commissioner Mark Sharpe, Bean's harshest critic, said she may have a claim for legal expenses, but nothing else. He said the pay raise violated the county's charter, which gives commissioners sole authority to set the administrator's salary.

"I don't think we owe her a cent, and I mean that," he said.

Other commissioners, however, expressed a desire to get the episode behind them. The county has a new administrator, Mike Merrill, who is reorganizing the government in the face of declining revenue, and that should be the commission's focus right now, they said.

"From my perspective, I don't think we need to dwell on this," said Commissioner Victor Crist, who was elected in November after Bean's dismissal. He said the commission needs to figure out what she wants and determine what it thinks is reasonable and move on.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

Hillsborough commissioners will explore ex-county administrator's money demand 04/20/11 [Last modified: Thursday, April 21, 2011 12:53am]
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