Pat Bean managed to keep her job Wednesday as Hillsborough County administrator because her bosses failed to show the leadership they now want from her. The county commission's decision to keep her shows how dysfunctional the relationship between the board and its chief executive has become, and how far in denial several commissioners are about the public's poor perception of county government.
Board members brushed aside Commissioner Mark Sharpe's call to fire Bean and voted to reassess her job performance come January. Commissioners said they want to give Bean time to craft a written "vision" for the county and to find ways to improve her leadership skills.
But this move was less about raising Bean's game and more about enabling commissioners to buy time and avoid a tough decision in the run-up to next year's elections. Bean has been administrator for six years and a county employee for 33; her annual evaluation had been scheduled for months. She has had plenty of time to address the many mistakes of this past year — the indefensible pay raises for her and her senior staff, the flawed budget she proposed, the weak leadership she offered the county on environmental and growth management policy.
Any chance the board could wring any leadership from Bean should have been dismissed by her opening statement. Bean said her rereading of the county charter and administrative code effectively absolved her from showing any initiative. And she blamed board members for not giving her enough guidance. Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Al Higginbotham latched onto this black hole as a means to avoid a debate over firing her, which would require the county to pay Bean a quarter-million-dollar severance.
There is no good time to pay a chief executive six figures to walk away. But the alternative is to pay Bean twice that to stay until her scheduled retirement in 2012, as the county struggles through the economic recession. What sort of leader needs a grace period to craft a "vision" for the organization he or she heads? The board also voted Wednesday, with Bean's blessing, to judge her job performance quarterly. That will only encourage her to focus on the short-term and ignore the long-term. Instead of fixing a problem, the board majority ensured it will worsen.