TAMPA — After a lengthy debate Wednesday, Hillsborough County commissioners cautiously approved their county administrator's contract and part of his reorganization plan.
Mike Merrill's restructuring of his office creates four positions: a chief financial administrator, a chief administrative officer and two deputy administrators.
Commissioners quickly approved hiring as chief financial administrator Bonnie Wise, who held a similar city of Tampa position for eight years, at a matching $160,000 salary.
They were also happy with Merrill's deputy administrator candidates, current county employees Lucia Garsys and Sharon Subadan, but hesitated at Merrill's suggestion to pay each $155,000 a year.
Expressing concern for morale in light of the economic downturn, Commissioner Mark Sharpe proposed paying the two no more than 5 percent more than their current salaries. That would put Garsys at about $143,000 and Subadan at $138,000 a year, he said.
"They have served this government extremely well over the years. It's not a question of that," Sharpe said. "I think this is fair."
After some dissonance from Merrill, the idea passed.
There was less enthusiasm over Merrill's plan to hire lawyer and consultant Helene Marks as his chief administrative officer.
Several commissioners questioned whether the position was necessary, worrying that it would create another level of government bureaucracy.
In the end, however, they left that determination up to Merrill, agreeing to hire Marks but limiting her salary to a figure comparable with those of the two deputy administrators.
Commissioners also approved a contract for Merrill, who has served as administrator since December and in an interim role for about seven months before that — stepping into a position dogged with controversy.
What might have otherwise been a routine rubber-stamping of Merrill's job terms became a tedious argument over contract language and termination details because of the way Merrill's predecessor left office.
Former County Administrator Pat Bean's contract tightly limited cause for termination, leading the board to agonize about how to fire her after she gave herself an unauthorized pay raise.
Merrill can be fired for "gross misfeasance, malfeasance, neglect of duty, exhibited incompetence, or continued rendering of unsatisfactory service, after instruction and/or counseling."
"I'm not going to go through hell again," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner.