Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lots of talk, little action on embattled Hillsborough County officials

TAMPA — One commissioner proposed firing two of Hillsborough County's top three appointed officials, but wanted separate votes on each.

Another said he could only support suspending one of the three, with pay, while he asks more questions about the others.

Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who initially proposed firing all three for creating a poisonous atmosphere at County Center through a series of back-biting episodes and poor decisions, stayed out of the conversation for the most part.

So after three hours of debate Wednesday, commissioners did nothing more than hire an outside attorney to help them as they wallow through the quagmire. It was a good day for the contract lawyer at least.

Richard McCrea Jr., of the Greenberg Traurig law firm, pocketed $930 at $310 an hour, largely to sit in the audience and field the occasional question. Commissioners will meet with him Tuesday to discuss their options.

Hagan said it was obvious there were not four votes to fire County Administrator Pat Bean, County Attorney Renee Lee or Internal Performance Auditor Jim Barnes. So there was no point in pushing for the clean slate approach he has advocated.

"During the meeting it was clear that there was not a consensus to take any action," Hagan said. "While I don't want to minimize the significance of the e-mail episode, I think board members are getting bogged down in the minutiae of that issue."

Indeed, the e-mail snooping issue dominated much of Wednesday's discussion. Barnes recently issued a report accusing employees of Bean and Lee of trolling through his e-mail shortly after he released another report late last year revealing that Bean gave herself and Lee secret 1 percent raises in 2007.

Barnes recently claimed that after his pay raise report, Lee threatened to get him fired. Commisioner Rose Ferlita has said that some time later Lee gave her a stack of information about Barnes, including e-mails.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner started the discussion by urging his colleagues to slow down until they get more information about the pay raises and e-mail snooping. The three appointees collectively are due a combined $720,000 if fired without cause. With the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigating the actions of Bean and Lee, Beckner said commissioners may yet get the justification they need to avoid severance.

"This is people's lives," Beckner said. "But also, there are people's tax dollars at stake."

Hagan said he came up with his triple play in reaction to more than e-mail snooping. There's a pair of stealth raises handed out by Bean, whom he says has been a weak leader; unprofessional reactions by Lee to Barnes' audits; and continued questions about the quality of Barnes' work, all of which Hagan said has left him "sickened."

With that, Commissioner Mark Sharpe moved to fire both Lee and Bean with cause, but said he couldn't justify trying to fire Barnes, who uncovered the pay raises. But his first motion dealing with Lee failed to muster a second. Hagan said afterward he couldn't support firing them for cause, fearing it would expose the county to lawsuits because their contracts narrowly define justifiable reasons for firing them.

"I don't see how we can continue to operate like this for one more day," Sharpe said of the ongoing focus on pay raises and e-mails that he says has ground work at County Center to a halt.

Ferlita defended Lee for providing her records about Barnes, saying she was being helpful to the commissioner who has been openly critical of the auditor's work. Lee said the records mostly included transcripts from commission meetings.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham questioned that behavior, however, saying that when he has requested information from Lee on certain issues, she has shared her response with all the other board members – which didn't happen in this case.

He further asked Bean if she witnessed Lee threaten Barnes. Bean said she couldn't remember Lee's exact words.

"I was stunned by how intense the words were," Bean said.

Lee acknowledged being testy with Barnes following his raise report, but said that she never threatened to get him fired.

Higginbotham proposed suspending Lee, but his proposal drew a rebuke from Commissioner Kevin White. Any hope of action soon unraveled.

White argued that Lee is facing the shortest list of alleged transgressions. He questioned Higginbotham's motive for singling her out.

"I don't know what the undertone of that is," White said.

"Kevin, this is by no means racially motivated," Higginbotham said. Lee is the lone black employee in the group.

White went on to say he knows what it's like to be falsely accused, one of a couple of references he made to his civil trial last year in which a federal jury found he sexually discriminated against a former aide.

"Been there, done that, got the T-shirt," White said.

Jim Norman told his colleagues that the e-mail allegations against Bean and Lee are so far unproven and leveled by an auditor with a questionable track record. He urged them against rushing to judgment.

"There's a lot of good things going on in the county," Norman said. "And the administration's got a lot to do with it. And the county attorney does too."

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

Lots of talk, little action on embattled Hillsborough County officials 03/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 9:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Buccaneers-Vikings Turning Point, Week 3: Overreaction vs. reality

    Bucs

    "None of us really know how this group of 53 guys is going to come together and how we're going to play this season."

  2. Triad Retail Media names Sherry Smith as CEO

    Corporate

    ST. PETERSBURG — Triad Retail Media, a St. Petersburg-based digital ads company, said CEO Roger Berdusco is "leaving the company to pursue new opportunities" and a member of the executive team, Sherry Smith, is taking over.

    Roger Berdusco is stepping down as CEO at Triad Retail Media to pursue other opportunities. [Courtesy of Triad Retail Media]
  3. What to watch this week: Fall TV kicks off with 'Will & Grace,' 'Young Sheldon,' return of 'This Is Us'

    Blogs

    September temperatures are still creeping into the 90s, but fall officially started a few days ago. And with that designation comes the avalanche of new and returning TV shows. The Big Bang Theory fans get a double dose of Sheldon Cooper's nerdisms with the return of the titular series for an eleventh season and …

    Sean Hayes, Debra Messing and Megan Mullally in Will & Grace.
  4. Eight refueling jets from Arkansas, 250 people heading to new home at MacDill

    Macdill

    TAMPA — The number of KC-135 refueling jets at MacDill Air Force Base will grow from 18 to 24 with the return of a squadron that once called Tampa home.

    A KC-135 Stratotanker, a military aerial refueling jet, undergoes maintenance at MacDill Air Force Base. The planes, many flying since the late 1950s, are now being flown more than twice as much as scheduled because of ongoing foreign conflicts. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Bucs couldn't connect on or stop deep passes in loss to Vikings

    Bucs

    If two things were established as storylines entering Sunday's Bucs-Vikings game, it was that Tampa Bay was still struggling to establish the deep passes that were missing from its offense last year, and that …

    Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) gets into the end zone for a long touchdown reception as Bucs free safety Chris Conte (23) cannot stop him during the second half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]