Embattled Hillsborough administrator's plan draws commissioners' ire

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean finally presented her long-awaited vision for her final two years on the job to commissioners Wednesday.

But it included little plan or vision.

Instead, Bean outlined her view of the state of Hillsborough County government — generally, things are good — and the reality going forward that the flow of tax money has slowed. With the latter in mind, she said it's important for commissioners to revisit their goals for the county, and for her to then carry out their wishes against the backdrop of a weak economy.

Bean called the report, already delayed for two months, a first step. "It's not the final product," she said.

Commissioners offered little reaction to her presentation, though some of them had offered a critical assessment of her work during her evaluation in December. Kevin Beckner, who suggested the exercise, said afterward he was expecting something a little more concrete.

"This doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what I expect from her," Beckner said. "I think we're way behind schedule. We're getting ready to get into the budget. To me this is a priority and very important to our residents."

Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who in December called for Bean's termination, called the exercise "utterly futile."

"What I heard was a state-of-the-county address, shortened," Sharpe said. "I don't think anyone took any stock in it."

Bean has been under heat from Sharpe in particular, who for more than a year has questioned her ability to lead the county in trying times. Then came news that she handed out steep raises to her top deputies, and a modest one for herself, even as she was laying off county employees to balance the budget.

Commissioners offered a mediocre assessment of her work during an annual evaluation. Beckner suggested, and a majority of his colleagues agreed, that she take a month to develop a plan of action with measurable goals and to report back on her progress quarterly. It's now been nearly a quarter.

Bean was out sick for a couple of weeks before the report was due and her administration has been busy preparing for a possible ballot initiative on a proposed transit tax. She said those were the reasons for the delay.

Her presentation Wednesday, titled "The Road to Our Future," outlined her progress on 56 goals that make up the commissioners' strategic plan. She highlighted successes, such as the county's favorable bond ratings as a measurement of its fiscal health, as well as challenges in meeting goals dealing with lowering unemployment.

With the state of the economy as it is, she said it may be time to reset those goals.

"We cannot be everything to everybody in these economic times," she said.

As she did during her evaluation, she emphasized that goal setting is the role of commissioners. She said she was committed to pursuing those goals and has continued to work on making government more efficient and is seeking to rebuild or enhance the public's trust.

Commissioners have historically held a retreat each year to discuss their goals. But at last year's retreat, timed closely with Bean's evaluation, they instead talked about other topics, such as how to better manage members of the public who show up at their meetings to speak.

"I don't think the board was ready deal with that at that time," Bean said.

Beckner, the newest member of the board, said he was not aware of what has happened in the past. He agreed that it is up to commissioners, not Bean, to develop a vision for how county government should work.

But he said he expects Bean not only to outline the challenges facing the county, but to recommend how to address them in seeking to achieve commissioners' goals.

"Her job is to help figure out what the solutions are," Beckner said.

That's where he said she's falling short.

He suggested that commissioners hold a workshop in the near future, possibly with the assistance of an outside mediator, to help the board revisit its goals given the challenges Bean outlined Wednesday.

In other action, commissioners:

• Heard a critical assessment of their internal performance auditor office that was the result of a peer review. They tentatively agreed to schedule future discussion on how to implement some of the recommendations in the report, but did not set a specific date.

• Approved several tweaks to various fees at county parks that were put in place last year. They include a $5 fee to replace lost park passes and increasing to $2 the fee for swimming at Lithia Springs Park.

• Agreed not to appeal a court ruling overturning code violations the county had issued against the owners of "Airstream Ranch," a series of trailers visible from Interstate 4 in Dover. The county had fined property owners Frank and Dorothy Bates, contending the display they say is artistic expression was actually a public nuisance, which the court said was not substantiated.

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

Embattled Hillsborough administrator's plan draws commissioners' ire 03/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 10, 2010 9:18pm]

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