TAMPA — Employees across Hillsborough County government are facing layoffs and pay reductions in response to sharp budget cuts.
But it has not been a bad year for Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean's six top deputies.
Each received raises ranging from 7 to 17 percent, even as rank-and-file employees were asked to do more with less. One of Bean's assistants, Edith Stewart, got a $20,000 raise.
Bean says the November pay bumps came with promotions for four of the six. All six took on added duties as part of a reorganization of her office, she said.
Overall, Bean said she cut administrative costs by consolidating several positions.
"They all took on additional responsibilities," Bean said. "Almost the whole team is here every night, late. Frankly, I think any one of them would say that they don't think they're overpaid for what they are doing."
But some commissioners, who recently voted to cut their own pay, expressed surprise. They said now is hardly the time to be doling out generous raises.
"Perhaps in a good economy that would fly," said Commissioner Rose Ferlita. "Right now, it's not what our constituents want to hear."
Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who wants to weigh cuts to employee benefits packages, said the raises are hard to swallow, promotions or not.
"I find it very hard to justify," he said. "The question I would ask is, if the people who made those decisions had to meet a payroll and it wasn't other people's money, would they have made the same decision?"
Bean announced the reorganization of her main office after a shakeup that saw her chief deputy sacked and an assistant county administrator demoted.
Following that, she elevated management and budget director Eric Johnson and debt management director Mike Merrill to administrator roles. Both kept their old duties and were assigned other departments to supervise.
"From my standpoint, I think I got a promotion," Johnson said. "We still have our old jobs and a new job, too."
In Merrill's case, he went from supervising a handful of people to about 800 county employees.
Both got 10 percent raises on top of the 2.25 percent cost-of-living increases given to other county employees. Johnson now makes $163,092 and Merrill $166,566. The two — though new to their positions — now earn nearly enough to reach the $169,645 pay ceiling on their jobs.
"I don't think I'm being unduly enriched," Merrill said. "It is a lot of money and a lot more money than a lot of people make. I don't take it lightly. I feel like I do the best job I can and treat people fairly."
As part of the reorganization, Bean also promoted two other longtime trusted advisers. Stewart, the county's main in-house lobbyist, oversees community outreach, and Lucia Garsys handles special projects for the administrator.
Garsys, a former planner, now also oversees the main agencies that regulate growth and handle county building projects. The 12 percent in raises she got in November took her salary to $153,213. "I understand the perception," she said. "But take a look at the scope of our responsibilities (before and after)."
Stewart got the biggest percentage raise, about $20,000 or 17 percent, when the cost-of-living boost and bump for her promotion are added. She remains the lowest-paid of Bean's administrators, at $136,094, but also took on the fewest new duties.
For good measure, Bean also gave her two holdover assistant administrators 5 percent pay raises on top of their 2.25 percent cost-of-living adjustments. She said each also has some added responsibilities.
Carl Harness, who makes $162,157 to supervise departments that deal with public safety, could not be reached.
Manus O'Donnell, who oversees social services and parks programs, said he did not ask for the raise that took his salary to $155,585. But he said he did absorb the duties of an employee who had been getting paid nearly as much to oversee county compliance with federal health care privacy laws.
"I assumed those duties and got no compensation for that," O'Donnell said. "That was trying to be more efficient before being efficient was trendy."
Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.