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Bean's pay a last bit of ugly business

Over at the Hillsborough County Commission, it's like somebody opened the curtains.

They have purged a rotten egg or two and added a few sort-of-new faces to the dais. After years of a most unneighborly relationship with the city in their midst, commissioners are already exchanging crock pot recipes with the new Tampa mayor.

And so far, not a one of them has been accused of tomcatting around with young staff members. Talk about your new day!

They even have a new county administrator less focused on Machiavellian office politics than on actual work, a decided improvement over the previous occupant.

By the standards of commissions past, the future's so bright, they ought to wear shades. (Which, if Kevin White were still among them, would be pricey Ray-Bans charged to his campaign account and cleverly disguised as "consulting and visioning costs.")

Still, there lingers an unpleasant bit of unfinished business. Today, commissioners will consider their former county administrator's post-job money grab — whether to pay so she'll go away, or fight for what's right, even if it costs taxpayers in the process.

Pat Bean, you'll recall, was fired after a spate of questionable decisions that peaked with accusations that she snooped in office e-mails and gave herself and other top dogs raises during tough financial times. All without — and this is the important part — the commission's okay.

Though Bean already had enough baggage for a trip to Paris, commissioners used that secret self-given pay bump to fire her with cause. And because it was with cause, she walked away with about $190,000 in unused leave instead of the full $455,000 severance.

Now she'd like the balance, and also some attorney's fees.

So you're thinking: She got fired for bad behavior, right? No way we pay her off. We taxpayers are in no mood to foot yet another bill for another ousted politico.

Except …

Bean's contract has this handy little detail that says she can be fired with cause if she committed a felony, a crime of moral turpitude or other illegal act for personal gain, illegal being the key word there.

The state attorney concluded Bean's behavior may have been questionable, but it wasn't criminal.

No crime, no "cause."

And Bean's back to be paid in full.

Now this is a commission still sore about taxpayers left with the tab when White's lecherous leanings landed them in federal court. And I am so with Commissioner Mark Sharpe when he says Bean should get not another cent, that a secret salary bump amounts to a bad act, and that it is bad precedent to "wilt under the pressure of a threatened lawsuit." Agreed, agreed and agreed.

Except …

Bean, no fool, has a steel safety net in that contract. So it is reasonable and prudent, if also frustrating, to pay her what she is owed or to at least seek a settlement that keeps us out of court, where attorneys' fees tend to pile up. (See: White, Kevin.)

Settle with Pat Bean? With taxpayer dollars at stake, it would be wrong not to, even if it stings. Even if it stinks.

Then we learn from it: No more bulletproof contracts. No more lingering problems like Pat Bean. And there's your new day.

Bean's pay a last bit of ugly business 05/03/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 9:52am]
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