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County auditor feels heat from commissioners

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners put their internal performance auditor on notice Wednesday.

A majority of commissioners called out Jim Barnes on everything from seeking pay raises to the quality and quantity of his work.

In what is seldom a good sign, they failed to approve his annual evaluation as scheduled Wednesday. Instead, they voted to discuss their expectations of him again later — something almost all of them said was needed.

"I firmly believe the office you're running, the ship, is going off course," Commissioner Kevin White said. "It needs a new compass and it needs a new map.

"If it continues to go in the direction it's going, I feel it won't be here for long — you won't be here for long."

Barnes said he welcomed the discussion. He said his own review of what led voters to create the position in 2002 has provided mixed messages about his job responsibilities. Barnes is paid about $113,000 a year and oversees an office with a nearly $500,000 annual budget.

"I'm really asking you all to define this role for me," he said.

A St. Petersburg Times story Sunday showed that the county had far more performance audits done before voters created the position. They were done by outside firms hired by the county.

Since the first auditor was hired six years ago, the office has completed three full-scale audits and a handful of other limited reviews.

But the story also showed that commissioners often send Barnes to investigate matters that vex them, taking him away from his auditing duties. Some commissioners acknowledged that problem.

"We kind of played a part in getting our performance auditor off track," said Commissioner Jim Norman, who nevertheless was critical of the limited number of audits Barnes has done.

Commissioner Rose Ferlita was far less charitable, repeatedly criticizing Barnes and his four-person office. She questioned whether Barnes' audits meet required standards and again faulted him for taking a recent training trip to Las Vegas.

She noted she initially voted to hire Barnes two years ago.

"I think we've made a mistake," Ferlita said Wednesday. "I thought you were going to do a good job and you haven't."

Bill Varian can be reached at varian @sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

County auditor feels heat from commissioners 04/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 15, 2009 11:54pm]
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