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Hillsborough's controversial executive pay hikes are trimmed in compromise

TAMPA — Under mounting pressure, Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean on Wednesday agreed to sharply reduce, but not eliminate, the steep pay raises she awarded her top six deputies late last year.

In return, commissioners unanimously agreed to restore their support for a reorganization of Bean's management team, which was part of her justification for the raises.

The gestures, brokered by commission Chairman Ken Hagan, appeared to ease the tension between Bean and her bosses that has been building as the county grapples with big budget cuts and layoffs.

Talk of the raises had drowned out almost all other discussion at the county, even as commissioners struggled to plug a $110 million shortfall in tax revenue that could lead to more than 1,000 job cuts over the next two years.

"It's not worth disrupting the whole organization," Bean said Wednesday. "We've got so much very important work to do. That's what we need to be focused on."

The St. Petersburg Times reported last month that Bean had given raises ranging from 7 to 17 percent to her top six assistants late last year as part of a reorganization.

Afterward, one commissioner said the board was fully aware of the raises before the reorganization, some said the details had been vague, and others said it was all news to them.

While Bean had publicly announced the shuffling of her staff, the pay increases were not disclosed until the Times obtained the records.

The raises, one totaling more than $20,000, came after it was already clear the county was hurtling toward hard times.

On Wednesday, Bean offered to reduce the raises to 4.5 percent across the board for the deputies. That includes the 2.25 percent given to all county employees last year as a cost-of-living raise, plus 2.25 percent.

Bean has said the initial raises were given because each of her deputies was taking on added responsibilities as part of a shrinking administration that would ultimately save the county money. But the story spurred a furious reaction from the public, and especially rank-and-file county employees who are losing jobs or taking on added tasks themselves.

The topic has dominated budget talks ever since. Just last week, commissioners voted to rescind their support for Bean's reorganization, the only retort available to them since they are not permitted to dictate what she pays her chiefs.

Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who led that assault, sounded a conciliatory tone Wednesday and expressed a desire to put the issue to rest.

"What you and Mr. Hagan did today is absolutely put us on track," she told Bean. "We were becoming kind of the entertainment of Hillsborough County. That's not good. That's not healthy."

Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who has used the issue in part to question Bean's leadership in a tough economy, said he was happy to put the matter to rest. But he said he still thinks the incident underscores his belief that Bean is not on top of the task at hand — that is, changing how county government operates.

"I'm still not satisfied," Sharpe said. "At the same time, I wasn't going to be the fly in the ointment. I think the chairman did the best he could in a bad situation."

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

Hillsborough's controversial executive pay hikes are trimmed in compromise 07/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 23, 2009 12:18am]

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