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Will County Center saga continue, or is this the end for Hillsborough trio?

Secret pay raises and e-mail snooping. Back-biting, finger-pointing and threats. Today's episode of As The County Turns brings the show either to a dramatic conclusion or teases to some denouement to come. Hillsborough County commissioners could vote this afternoon to fire one or all three of their top appointed officials or hire outside counsel to guide them. Here's the story so far:

Pat Bean, county administrator, 64

Tenure: 33 years with the county, six as administrator

The case: Her affordable housing office implodes three years ago and she's slow to react, even as it must forfeit $2 million. She's then busted doling out big raises to six deputies — more than $20,000 to one — as she hands out pink slips to others. Auditor Jim Barnes unearths another 1 percent raise she gave herself, County Attorney Renee Lee and others in 2007. Commissioners order her to produce a vision for her final two years. Her response is less than visionary. Finally, she admits getting someone to download Barnes' e-mail but takes a lie-detector test to show she didn't peek.

Considerations: An effort to replace Bean's job with an elected mayor makes it tough to find a place-holder. She has two years left; commissioners would have to pay $448,847 to fire her now.

Handicapping: The hallmark of her career is survival. But this may be her toughest test.

Renee Lee County attorney, 57

Tenure: Six years

The case: Barnes' 1 percent pay raise report dings Lee for giving a written opinion blessing her and Bean's eligibility in what was billed as an incentive program. She and Bean quickly refund the raise, but Barnes claims Lee threatened to get him fired after he issued the report. She denies it. Now Commissioner Rose Ferlita says Lee fed her records about Barnes, including some of his e-mails, after the alleged threat. Ferlita, a Barnes critic, uses some of the records to blast him. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement seizes the records as part of its investigation into goings on at County Center.

Considerations: Lee's inclusion in Chairman Ken Hagan's call for action rallies some black community leaders. One of her attorneys also says she is offended "as a woman" by the board's treatment of her client.

Handicapping: Commissioners may move to fire one, two or all three. They may find it tough to fire Lee alone.

Jim Barnes Internal performance auditor, 62

Tenure: Three years

The case: Finds trouble with commissioners quickly. Twice seeks raises before ever completing an audit. Commissioners blast him for doing too little work, taking too long and prematurely releasing results. Gets busted for a taxpayer-funded trip to Las Vegas while already under scrutiny. A peer review concludes work from his office does not meet accepted standards. Some officials say his recent reports are timed to divert attention from his shortcomings.

Considerations: The peer review also concludes commissioners have not set clear direction for the office since it was created by voters about seven years ago. It suggests a tightening of what the auditor does.

Handicapping: At least three commissioners have said they won't support firing the auditor. It would look like they are shooting the messenger, they say. Still, he shouldn't get too comfortable.

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

Will County Center saga continue, or is this the end for Hillsborough trio? 03/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 7:17am]
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