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Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen taking part-time job with clerk of court

TAMPA — Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen is returning to the Hillsborough County Clerk of the Circuit Court's office for a part-time job overseeing a wide-ranging project to update the agency's information technology.

A lawyer by training, Cohen, 41, left his job as the chief deputy clerk of court to campaign full-time for the City Council.

After he was sworn in on April 1, he said he would spend a month or so getting used to the demands of his city job, which pays $40,250 annually, before deciding about other work.

Starting Wednesday, Cohen will work 18 hours a week and will be paid $65.99 per hour, the same hourly rate he earned as chief deputy clerk. That works out to about $61,767 annually.

"That's a good bargain," Clerk of Court Pat Frank said, praising Cohen's knowledge of the Clerk's Office and the courts.

This month, Frank saw three high-level employees leave in a reorganization that she said will reduce costs and put the office in a better position to carry out the legislatively mandated technological overhaul.

The reorganization did not have anything to do with an investigation of ticket-handling irregularities in the Clerk's Office, Frank said.

One of the three employees who left resigned after indicating that she doubted she could oversee the technology overhaul while handling her existing duties.

Frank said she is confident that Cohen will handle a critical job as the liaison between the IT specialists who are implementing the new system and the people who will use it.

Cohen said the technology project will affect everything from the imaging of documents to the redacting of personal information from court records, online access to court documents (once Supreme Court rules allow it), how judges use court records and how the Clerk's Office remits money to the state.

Before taking the job, which does not include any benefits, Cohen got a letter from the Florida Commission on Ethics saying that he could work for the Clerk's Office while serving on the City Council.

Cohen also provided the Times with a Florida attorney general's opinion from March saying that an elected official could work for another local agency as long as the second job entailed carrying out duties assigned by the agency. The attorney general's opinion dealt with a Clay County deputy clerk of court serving as an elected county commissioner.

Cohen, who represents South Tampa on the council, is not the first City Council member to hold a public sector job while in elective office. Chairman Charlie Miranda has long served as a state steward, a state official who regulates various aspects of thoroughbred horse racing, at Tampa Bay Downs.

Tampa City Council member Harry Cohen taking part-time job with clerk of court 05/27/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 28, 2011 12:37am]

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