Hillsborough administrator helped herself to a raise, former top aide says

TAMPA — Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean has said she doesn't know who nominated her for an incentive-based pay raise in 2007.

Now her former top deputy says Bean decided to award herself the 1 percent pay hike given to 10 top executives with the county that year. The decision came after getting a legal opinion from County Attorney Renee Lee — who got a raise as well — that the pay hike was allowable under their contracts.

"It was Pat's decision on including herself in it after consulting with (Lee)," said former Deputy County Administrator Wally Hill, now the deputy chief operating officer for the city of San Diego.

Bean denies Hill's account of how the controversial pay raise — which she has since asked to have rescinded — came to be. She said Wednesday that she never asked to get the raise.

"I'm really disappointed he would say that," Bean said. "That's not my recollection at all. I would not have done that."

The conflicting assertions are just part of the mystery surrounding the pay raises, granted without the blessing of county commissioners, who set the salaries of Bean and Lee.

Bean, who makes $226,366, has said the raises were given out as part of a long-standing financial incentive program, awarded that year mainly to department heads who brought forward $17 million in cost savings. She and Lee both made cutbacks that year in their offices, but Bean says she doesn't know how she was included.

The program has since been suspended. Hill, who acknowledges pushing for the raises for department directors, lost his job more than a year later in another round of budget cutting by Bean.

Two weeks after the raises were disclosed, the county has been able to provide almost no records of how they happened. County officials can produce no nominating forms, no voting record of the committee that vetted them or the names of its members.

The county wasn't even able locate the policy that enables the reward program 10 days after the St. Petersburg Times requested it. County officials were able to provide records showing some past recipients and suggesting a program of "extraordinary merit increases" has existed since the late 1980s.

"Loosey-goosey does not even begin to describe what happened," said Marcella O'Steen, an east county community activist who called for a vote to fire Bean at Wednesday's County Commission meeting.

Both Lee and Bean have canceled the raises of roughly $2,100 each and said they will return the money they have gotten so far.

The issue arose in a recent review of executive compensation by county internal auditor Jim Barnes. Commissioners requested the review after learning that Bean had awarded her top six deputies raises ranging from 7 to 17 percent last year without their knowledge at a time of anticipated budget cuts.

Barnes did not question Bean's ability to give raises to employees who report to her. But he did question her ability to boost her own pay, and Lee's.

"Both of these executive employees are under contract, and their salaries are set by (commissioners)," Barnes wrote. "Any increase must be approved by the board."

Barnes also questioned Lee's justification for the pay raises: Their contracts say they are entitled to benefits at least as good as other county employees'. Barnes didn't think a raise, regardless of being part of an incentive program, could be called a "benefit."

Bean has said that she opted to accept the raise, after being nominated by an unknown person, upon receiving the opinion.

Lee said Wednesday that she issues legal opinions all the time, but she said it's up to the administrator to decide what to do with them. She said she didn't ask for a raise, doesn't know how it happened and is embarrassed by the whole episode.

"The whole 'legal made me do it' thing is just a farce," she said. "The whole thing is upsetting to me. If I could stand up and apologize to the public, I would because it was not the right thing to do."

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

Hillsborough administrator helped herself to a raise, former top aide says 10/08/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 8, 2009 1:15am]

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