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Hillsborough County administrator receives scolding, not firing

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean survived the ax Wednesday.

But she left her annual evaluation on a leash — a short one.

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe failed to win support for a motion to fire Bean, a move he said was necessary to get the county moving in a new direction.

Instead, commissioners voted 5-1, with Commissioner Jim Norman absent, to retain Bean on the condition that she submit a detailed plan by Jan. 22 about what she expects to accomplish in the next two years. That's when her contract with the county ends, and Bean has indicated she plans to step down.

"I want to know what fire lies within you and what you want to accomplish in the next two years," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who made the motion to retain Bean.

Commissioners directed Bean to consult each of them to solicit ideas for her action plan. The board urged her to pursue measurable goals, and told her to report to them quarterly on her progress.

Bean said afterward that she accepts the challenge, and welcomes guidance from board members, which she said she hasn't received in recent years.

"There is no lack of fire here," she said after the vote. "There's no lack of enthusiasm here."

While Bean survived the meeting with her job, she left bruised as a majority of commissioners expressed disappointment with her performance during the past year. No one was more critical than Sharpe, who proposed that she be forced to step down by the end of the year.

Sharpe repeatedly used the word "weak" to describe her leadership on a variety of issues, from tackling transportation challenges to seeking to reinvent government in lean financial times. He said she didn't work well with other local government leaders, and more often than not talks about why something can't be done when he and others make suggestions.

"I feel like the heart's just not there and now we're just waiting out two more years," Sharpe said.

None of the other commissioners seconded his motion, which is necessary to bring about a vote. But three joined Sharpe in offering a litany of criticisms, while adding that they, too, shoulder some blame for failing to give Bean clear guidance on what they have expected from her in recent years.

Commissioner Kevin White said he arrived at Wednesday's meeting prepared to fire Bean, having read Sharpe's intention in the newspaper.

White recounted troubles in the county's Affordable Housing Office, which was forced in 2007 to forfeit $2 million in federal grant money. He said Bean failed to get on top of the matter or alert commissioners, who learned of the problem through a resident.

Other commissioners, including Beckner and Rose Ferlita, cited communication problems by Bean, and pay raises she handed to herself and her top deputies as other employees faced pay cuts and layoffs.

But White said commissioners have failed to provide her direction.

"We've all been guilty of poor judgment at some point in our lives," said White, found by a federal jury in August to have sexually discriminated against a former aide. "At this point in time, my Christmas present to you is to give you a little leeway on this issue."

Bean opened the discussion Wednesday by presenting commissioners with a booklet of accomplishments by her and those who report to her. Chief among those is a strong credit rating, which continues despite a severe economic downturn.

She said she recently gave herself a 3.5 percent pay reduction, which includes five furlough days, in recognition of the trying financial times families everywhere are facing.

She had been earning about $226,000. Under her contract, she is entitled to a year's pay if fired, plus even more than that for unused sick and vacation time.

Commission Chairman Ken Hagan noted the $472,000 due Bean if she is fired.

Hagan and Commissioner Al Higginbotham said many of the criticisms of Bean over the past year have validity. But Higginbotham said Bean has proven responsive as he has identified areas where he thinks the administration needs improvement.

Hagan noted the high marks commissioners have given Bean in the past, and questioned the merits of firing her at a time of unprecedented financial challenges for county government.

"While I think Ms. Bean needs to step up her game, I don't think her performance rises to the level of termination," he said.

Hillsborough County administrator receives scolding, not firing 12/16/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 11:57pm]
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