The Pat Bean saga still isn't over. But the story line brightened Wednesday when Hillsborough County commissioners refused to pay the ousted administrator $278,000 in what she claims to be owed in severance. The claim is preposterous, and the board showed spine, principle and common sense by standing up to her.
Commissioners fired Bean in June for poor performance. She was a mediocre leader and slow to respond to the challenges of the recession. But what put some commissioners over the top was the disclosure that Bean took a 1 percent pay raise without their permission. Commissioners said her actions violated the county charter and were serious enough to deny her a full severance.
Bean now claims vindication after Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober said in February her conduct was "questionable" but not criminal. The county has already paid her $191,000 for unused vacation and sick pay. But Bean hopes Ober's finding is cover enough to satisfy the conduct clause in her contract that would award a year's pay and benefits, or about $278,000.
Commissioner Mark Sharpe has laid out a strong argument for not paying Bean another cent, and the board's outside attorney on the matter seems prepared to make a strong legal case. The board did agree Wednesday to pay Bean's expenses related to the criminal probe, contingent on an independent review that they are reasonable. That is fair and appropriate. But the board stopped short of cutting a check for severance to end the case altogether.
This messy, public circus is what taxpayers get when elected board members give away the store in hiring senior executives. They might not have treated the public's money as their own back then — but they certainly need to today. Writing a check to Bean would have been the easy way out. It's natural commissioners would want to avoid the costs and uncertainty that comes with a legal case. But they also have an obligation to think about what's right and to see it through. Bean faces the same uncertainty. The board should be commended for holding its ground.