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A Times Editorial

Weak economy, weak leadership

Hillsborough County cannot continue to muddle along under the weak leadership of County Administrator Pat Bean. County commissioners, who will review Bean's job performance today, should realize that Bean lacks the vision and political skills to lead a county of 1 million people in these difficult economic times. As we have said before, Bean needs to resign. If she does not, the commission should fire her and hire someone who can rebuild public confidence in county government.

The last year has been an embarrassment for Bean and a wake-up call for taxpayers. The 2010 budget she proposed this summer called for hundreds of job cuts and the elimination of entire county programs to plug a $144 million deficit. It fell to mid-level administrators and citizens' groups to propose fee increases and other creative ways to save essential services such as animal welfare and child day care inspections.

Bean failed to prepare the county despite warning years before the housing bubble burst that the property market — and the tax revenues it generated — would decline. She still has no solid ideas for consolidating county services with other governments. She resisted a call from commissioners to have the highly respected Florida Sterling Council audit county operations, which could have brought about significant savings and improved services. And she showed no urgency until her job evaluation approached to seek new partnerships for the county.

Bean failed to anticipate the challenges of an economy that could take another five years to recover. County officials said even before cutting tens of millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs that the outlook for 2011 was even worse. What will Bean do when the 2011 budget talks begin next summer — propose another round of wholesale cuts to county jobs and programs? Or go back to the taxpayers with another round of higher fees?

Bean has kept her job because commissioners have been queasy about paying her a quarter-million dollars to buy out her contract. Several commissioners also fear firing Bean would show the county to be in disarray and help efforts to create an elected countywide mayor who would lessen their influence. But Bean is Exhibit A for creating an elected county mayor. Under her, the walls between the professional staff and elected commissioners have all but disappeared. She is widely seen as failing to prevent the commission from making major mistakes on everything from transportation to growth management to environmental matters. Paying her severance would be an investment toward making the institution efficient and forward-looking, and toward regaining public confidence as the voters look to change county governance.

The real question is whether commissioners can afford to have Bean stay. What chance is there that Bean would change in the two years remaining on her contract? If the county will need to hire a successor soon anyway, why not get a new administrator now and put the government on a solid course in advance of the 2010 elections? Commissioners may frame this as a fiscal issue. But Bean's job evaluation today also will be an evaluation of the commissioners' leadership.

Weak economy, weak leadership 12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 6:37pm]

    

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