TAMPA — A raise that Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean gave herself in 2007 may come back to haunt her like the ghost of Christmas past this holiday season.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner said Wednesday he has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to determine if Bean broke the law.
And Commissioner Mark Sharpe suggested she violated her employment contract with the board, which sets her salary. He sought unsuccessfully Wednesday to see if that is grounds to void the contract, or at least nullify a provision that gives her up to a year of pay if she is fired.
"I'm right now looking to establish hard facts so that we know as we move forward what we can and cannot do, weighing it all," Sharpe said after the meeting.
Sharpe failed to win support for hiring an outside lawyer to assess whether Bean violated her contract. He couldn't ask County Attorney Renee Lee, because she, too, received the same 1 percent incentive raise that Bean got in 2007, even though she also has her salary set by the commission.
Commissioners also rejected Beckner's request for a full-scale review of who has received pay hikes under the incentive program and the guidelines followed to award them.
Instead, the board voted 4-3 to review its management compensation policies at a future date and make whatever changes it sees fit.
Commissioner Jim Norman, who made that motion, said the county needed to put the matter to rest with other, more pressing issues looming.
"If we're unhappy with what went on, suspend them for a couple of days and move on," he said.
Sharpe, Beckner and Kevin White were on the losing side. Beckner argued that the commission needs a fuller understanding of the incentive program and how it has been used, specifically to Bean's and Lee's benefit.
"There's one word missing from this whole discussion. That's 'accountability,' " he said.
County internal performance auditor Jim Barnes discovered the raises Bean awarded to Lee, herself and eight other top county officials in 2007. He was reviewing management compensation practices after the St. Petersburg Times revealed Bean had awarded her top six deputies steep pay raises last year.
Bean said the 2007 raises were part of a long-standing program to reward employees who go above and beyond. They were handed out to department directors who recommended ways to save the county money.
She has said she doesn't know who nominated her, though a former deputy has said she put her own name forward. Either way, Bean got an opinion from Lee that said accepting the raise would not violate their contracts, because they would be considered "benefits" rather than pay.
The county has been unable to provide the Times any nominating forms or even a policy governing the program.
Beckner said afterward that he was approached by residents who researched the issue and believe the raises may have violated state law. He said he felt duty bound to turn the matter over to an outside agency.
Sharpe cited three possible law violations during the meetings. One prohibits bonuses for county employees, and the other two relate to commissioners' responsibility for setting salaries of contract workers.
Whether there was a legal violation or not, he said he intends to revisit in general how Bean runs the county when she is up for evaluation in December.
"My complaint with the administrator is that there's no real process," Sharpe said. "A lot of things are just done and we have no idea why."
Bean and Lee already face ethics complaints filed by a local activist over the raise matter. Bean said little during the discussion and an attempt to reach her afterward was unsuccessful.
Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.