TAMPA — An attorney for former Hillsborough County internal performance auditor Jim Barnes has threatened commissioners with a lawsuit claiming he was fired for being a whistle-blower.
The commissioners' response Wednesday: Okay.
Barnes, through attorney David Linesch, claims he was fired for his "courageous, yet controversial" work revealing secret pay raises and e-mail snooping by County Attorney Renee Lee and then-County Administrator Pat Bean.
Linesch said the potential legal claim of retaliation is "exceptionally clear cut" and offered to meet to resolve the matter short of a lawsuit.
Commissioners contend Barnes had performance problems, and that the timing of his termination was coincidental.
Richard McCrea, an attorney hired by commissioners to help them deal with a variety of issues involving Bean, Lee and Barnes, said he has received a similar oral request from the auditor's former assistant.
The assistant, Billy Poulos, was fired by Barnes shortly before he himself was fired.
McCrea told commissioners that Barnes would have to pursue an administrative claim before he can file a lawsuit and advised them not to take action on either threat.
They obliged in a 5-0 vote, with Commissioners Jim Norman and Mark Sharpe absent.
In other action:
• Commissioners finalized a decision to place a question on the November ballot that seeks permission to modify the auditor's job duties. It would remove work as a budget analyst and broaden the types of audits the office can perform.
• The board also voted unanimously to create a committee of citizens and industry representatives to consider the rules that govern cell phone tower locations. The county would seek an independent expert to help guide the committee's work, either a volunteer from perhaps academia or a paid consultant.