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Severance deal proposed by Hillsborough administrator is most lucrative so far

TAMPA — Suspended Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean says she is offering to give up some severance pay to walk away from her job because that would serve everyone's best interests.

But her settlement proposal actually appears to serve her interests more than any exit package commissioners have considered so far.

Under her proposal, Bean would step down as administrator today. She would accept a 15 percent cut in salary and payouts for unused sick and vacation time. She would remain with the county in a consulting post for 18 months, her discounted $190,000 severance pay serving as salary for the advisory work.

Here's the rub: Remaining with the county could dramatically boost Bean's pension, potentially increasing the amount of her payout in retirement by more than $200,000. That far offsets the $67,200 she is offering to discount her overall severance.

Some commissioners are keying on those numbers as they prepare to discuss Bean's fate today. Budget officials were working late Tuesday to determine how Bean's proposal affects what taxpayers will shell out if she leaves on her terms.

"In a nutshell, I'm not going to support what I view as a one-sided compromise that benefits only Ms. Bean," commission Chairman Ken Hagan said. "It doesn't make any sense to agree on a settlement that pays her more than if she were terminated."

Bean, 64, the county's administrator for the past seven years, has survived several efforts to fire her in recent months. Commissioners have faulted her for weak leadership during a time of economic challenges.

She is currently serving a 90-day paid suspension with County Attorney Renee Lee while state investigators look into allegations that she gave herself and Lee 1 percent pay raises in 2007 without commission approval then snooped through the county auditor's e-mails. Their suspensions end Monday.

Six of seven commissioners have said they are ready to fire Bean. But they have disagreed on whether the pay raises allow them cause to deny her severance.

The overall value of her severance is about $455,000. Lawyers for Bean and the county have been negotiating the terms of a graceful exit. Bean's proposal, on its face, appears to speak to a couple of demands from commissioners.

They have asked that Bean accept a smaller payout in return for letting her quit. And they want the severance to be paid gradually, in case investigators find she committed a crime.

That could give commissioners justification to fire her and stop paying her.

Under her proposal, she would step down as administrator and assume a consulting role working from home through Dec. 31, 2011, when her contract ends. Instead of a $224,120 annual salary, she would get paid $190,400 for whatever work she does in the next 18 months.

She also would accept $33,600 less than the nearly $192,000 she is due for unused sick and vacation leave and wouldn't get paid for it until she leaves the county.

Bean and her lawyer have not returned calls for comment.

By staying on the county payroll, Bean would remain in the state's retirement system. Those additional 18 months are significant in her retirement payout.

Bean is enrolled in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program — DROP. It allows employees to cash out a portion of their pension benefit upon retirement. If Bean retires today, the value is $391,042. But the cash-out increases by $208,000 if she finishes out her contract, according to state estimates.

"This is not good for the taxpayers in any way," said Commissioner Mark Sharpe. "It's as if we're putting one person above all the others."

County officials are still trying to figure out what Bean's proposal means for taxpayers. For one, compounding and interest on a pension account Bean has built over nearly 34 years with the county accounts for much of the jump in its value. The county's annual contribution on her behalf would be much less in the next 18 months.

Though they have never factored it into estimates of her severance costs until now, they were checking Tuesday to see if they should have.

"These are all questions I'm working through," Commissioner Al Higginbotham said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or [email protected]

FAST FACTS

Three choices

• Fire Pat Bean with cause, finding that a 1 percent pay raise she gave herself and others in 2007 amounted to an improper personal gain and risk that she sues.

Total payout: $0 – for now.

• Fire her without cause and pay severance equal to a year's salary and benefits, and the value of unused sick and vacation pay.

Total payout: $455,232.

Accept the settlement she has offered. Bean would stay on as a consultant through Dec. 31, 2011.

Pay and benefits: $390,538.

Lump sum pension payment: Increases by $208,314

Potential payout: $598,852

Severance deal proposed by Hillsborough administrator is most lucrative so far 06/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 11:57pm]
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