What a Christmas gift the Hillsborough County Commission gave this year to County Administrator Pat Bean.
The only thing missing was a big red bow.
In deciding to give Bean a second chance, the board resisted Commissioner Mark Sharpe's push to oust her after a series of bad decisions and performance issues and the not pretty headlines that followed, at a time the county surely didn't need them.
Wasn't having a sitting commissioner on the losing end of an embarrassing and expensive federal lawsuit bad enough press this year?
Board members refused to get rid of Bean despite an obvious need for the county to right the course in terms of its chief executive. They refused even as commissioners voiced disappointment in her performance. They voted instead to give her a chance to prove she can do better.
Will she? Or will this be a painful continuance of a tenure best ended?
Here's a performance review: Bean, a county employee for three decades and county administrator the last six years, has been called steady and dependable.
But her critics found her disappointingly unimaginative when it came to budget solutions for a dismal economy. She has been seen as recalcitrant in dealing with other government's leaders. Commissioners have said Bean tells them what they want to hear and not necessarily what they need to hear.
Sharpe, who is working toward a badly needed but hard-to-sell penny-for-transportation referendum, has been particularly, well, sharp in saying Bean is not the leader the county needs now.
Other criticisms come with painful numbers, as in raises for Bean and her top deputies even as the economy was tanking.
I'm sorry — could someone remind me again why they said no to her going?
But no is what they said, perhaps mindful of the big payout Bean gets if she is fired before her contract is up in two years. Fair enough there, too. Commissioners may be particularly prickly on this, given the public lashing they've suffered for the big bucks it cost to lose a sexual discrimination suit accusing Commissioner Kevin White of firing his young aide after she repeatedly refused to give him "a chance."
Yes, Bean looks infinitely better by comparison. (Though the cynical mutter that she survives only because she has been around so long she knows where certain bodies are buried.)
For the record, it's a tough job serving the seven-headed monster that is the County Commission, given the political clashes, differing interests and varied constituencies. But $226,000 a year is compensation for whatever headaches they bring.
The gift they gave Pat Bean is the chance to redeem herself. If she can.
Bean has until Jan. 22 to come up with a detailed action plan for how she will spend the last two years of her contract. After the commission's decision, she vowed she still has the fire in her belly.
So let's see it, in smart ways to cut the budget and deal with the grim realities of running a government right now, in keeping on top of problems, in avoiding embarrassing flubs like raises for top-end employees in an economy on life support.
Imagine being surprised, pleasantly even.
Now that would be a gift.