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Les Miller would collect $188,500 yearly if working for Hillsborough commission, USF

TAMPA — Les Miller needs only to beat a write-in candidate to become a Hillsborough County commissioner in November.

For Miller, it would be his second taxpayer-funded job: He has been working full time at the University of South Florida since 2007.

But, for now, Miller hasn't decided if he'll leave his $96,500-a-year job as USF's student ombudsman and community liaison if he becomes a county commissioner — which pays $92,000.

"I've got to get past that general election," Miller said. "That's what I'm focusing on right now."

Miller beat Commissioner Kevin White in last month's Democratic primary and faces write-in candidate Dwight Bolden in November — practically guaranteeing a win that will result in another publicly funded position.

While Miller remains undecided, other county commissioners say it's impossible to hold down a full-time job and give proper attention to government duties.

County Commissioner Al Higginbotham last week asked the county's charter review board to consider changing the charter to clearly designate a County Commission seat as a full-time position. The charter now states only that commissioners can have outside employment as long as it doesn't interfere with commission obligations.

Higginbotham quit his work as a motivational speaker after his election in 2006.

"When I became a commissioner, I felt with the compensation that I was offered it merited my full-time attention," he said.

Kevin Beckner significantly reduced the time he spends as a financial planner after being elected to the commission in 2008. The owner of an Ameriprise Financial franchise, he puts only eight to 15 hours a week into that business — much of it at night and on weekends.

"Most of my time is spent being a commissioner," he said. "I can't imagine working for somebody else and do what I do here."

County Commissioner Mark Sharpe gave up his part-time consulting business altogether a few years after his 2004 election. The move coincided with difficult financial times for his biggest client, and the realization that he didn't have the time to do anything other than work for the county.

"It was very, very hard for me to manage staying up with all the material I need to as a commissioner — reading through all the background material and not getting blind-sided by an issue — and then give whomever else I was working for adequate time," he said.

In addition to regular County Commission meetings, board members have to prepare for and attend land use meetings. They double as the Environmental Protection Commission.

They serve on multiple outside boards, such as the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority and the Tampa Port Authority.

They receive thousands of requests for help from constituents.

"You have a little bit of extra time," Sharpe said. "Not much."

If Miller opts to juggle two jobs, he wouldn't be the first. County Commissioner Jim Norman collects $95,000 a year in a full-time job for the Salvation Army. Norman has said he does much of his work at night and on weekends.

USF does not have any rules that would prevent Miller from holding two jobs.

Charter review board member Joe Robinson said he would like to see the rules changed so commissioners can work only part time at other jobs.

But Jan Platt, a review board member and former county commissioner, doesn't think it's necessary.

She agrees that it's impossible to be an effective county commissioner and work full time in another job. Still, the charter isn't the place to address the issue, she added.

"To me, these other employers are the ones to be questioned. Once somebody runs for these offices, they've got their hands full," she said.

She said she's perplexed that the Salvation Army has continued to pay Norman for full-time work.

"They're the ones to be criticized," she said. "I've talked to a lot of people who aren't going to donate to the Salvation Army because of this."

Like Platt, review board chairman Mitch Thrower isn't sure a charter change is appropriate but said it's worth discussing.

"Because of the amount of work involved, it seems to me you need to dedicate at least 40 hours a week to be an effective commissioner," he said. "But it doesn't necessarily mean you should exclude someone from working a full-time job. I'd like to see what viewpoints other people have."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Les Miller would collect $188,500 yearly if working for Hillsborough commission, USF 09/04/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 4, 2010 11:18pm]
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