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Severance in hand, McIntosh resigns

(ran PC edition of Pasco Times)

County Administrator Paul McIntosh ultimately left on his own terms.

Twice before in recent months, Hernando County commissioners had gone to the brink of firing him.

On Tuesday, with McIntosh out of town and commissioners still coping with revelations in local newspapers that he had taken more unreported gifts, both parties were back at the brink.

The choices: Do nothing; fire McIntosh, with or without a severance package; or accept a settlement offer proposed by McIntosh through his high-profile attorney in which McIntosh would resign effective April 15 and agree not to sue the county in exchange for six months' severance pay, insurance coverage and $2,000 in legal fees.

"When you start looking at this package," Commissioner Diane Rowden said, "to get this county settled back down, get back to running the county, it's not that expensive."

On a motion by Commissioner Chris Kingsley and seconded by Commissioner Betty Whitehouse, the board voted 4-1 to take the settlement and part ways with McIntosh.

Commission Chairwoman Nancy Robinson had wanted the board united in the choice.

Only Commissioner Mary Aiken opposed the move, criticizing her fellow commissioners for letting the news media guide their decisionmaking.

"Well, good people, we've been led through the hoops by two of our 4- to 6-page newspapers," Aiken said. "I am grievously disappointed. Paul is a good man. He got a little cocky. . . . I guess that done him in."

Although his resignation is effective April 15, commissioners stipulated that he should not come back to work except to clear out his office. They appointed Deputy County Administrator Dick Radacky to the post of interim county administrator. Next week, they will talk about what to do long-term, but commissioners seemed Tuesday to be leaning toward staying in-house _ or at least in-county _ with their replacement search.

McIntosh, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, gets about $65,300 in the settlement, including salary, vacation and leave time, insurance coverage, and fees for his attorney, Robert F. McKee of Tampa. McKee also represents Sami Al-Arian, the controversial Palestinian professor suing the University of South Florida for wrongful termination.

"We're talking about the big boys," County Attorney Garth Coller said. "(McIntosh) chose well."

McIntosh had been under fire for his handling of the troubled Emergency Management Department and for his participation in a golf tournament paid for by Hartman & Associates, a utility consultant doing business with Hernando County.

The last time McIntosh was nearly fired, on March 6, he survived by a 3-2 vote, with Kingsley, Whitehouse and Aiken in his favor and Robinson and Rowden opposed.

Commissioners then agreed to let McIntosh continue with his one-year contract extension, with a review planned after six months. After the motion by Robinson and Rowden failed, Kingsley noted either he, Whitehouse or Aiken would have to bring the matter up again to suggest severance of the contract.

That seemed to be the end of it.

But a question posed by Whitehouse to McIntosh at a previous meeting would come back to haunt McIntosh: Had he received other gifts he hadn't told commissioners about?

His reply: "It's not something I can answer now. I'll have to talk to my attorney to determine what my answer might be."

The answer eventually came out in the St. Petersburg Times last week.

McIntosh had accepted a golf outing at the exclusive Black Diamond golf course in Citrus County, courtesy of Jim Kimbrough, chief executive officer and chairman of SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast.

He had attended a charity golf tournaments and Devil Rays baseball game paid for by Oak Hill Hospital.

And he had enjoyed a luxury seat on the 15-yard line at Raymond James Stadium for a Tampa Bay Buccaneers football game paid for by Oak Hill Hospital, and provided by his friend, Dr. Robert Blackburn.

But McIntosh had not reported any of them, not to commissioners and not to the state of Florida. Two of the gifts were valued at more than $100, and state statutes require that such gifts be reported on a quarterly basis.

That left McIntosh open to reprimand, termination and fines as high as $10,000, under the statutes. Assistant County Attorney Kurt Hitzemann, in rendering his opinion Tuesday, said the state prefers to encourage compliance and rarely pursues the more stringent punishments.

Firing McIntosh and risking a lawsuit would cost the county far more in the long run than simply agreeing to his terms and walking away, Hitzemann warned. Gifts would have to prove influential _ not just of value _ to rise to the level where it would be safe to fire the administrator.

"As far as cause goes, we don't have a situation where we could terminate him for cause and therefore avoid the severance terms of the contract," Hitzemann said, adding later, "It all costs money. If we get sued . . . we still have to defend it. That still takes time. That still takes money. But when I write the (settlement) check, it's over."

Before taking up McIntosh's settlement offer, commissioners discussed the gift issue, concerned that they might have violated the rules themselves.

Rowden, Aiken and Whitehouse, before they had ever been sworn in as county commissioners, attended a dinner in Tallahassee on behalf of Waste Management, a company that does business with the county, but Rowden paid for hers. And Rowden and Whitehouse said they had attended American Heart Association benefit dinners, but had spent money on silent auctions.

Hitzemann explained that if they donate time, effort or money to the charitable events, then it is not against the law to accept them.

"If you go to a spaghetti dinner and they give you a spaghetti dinner, but you spend time in line slinging spaghetti, then you're giving something back," he said.

Aiken, however, said it is better to be safe than sorry, and cited Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher's policy of no gifts, period, as the way to go.

"Take nothing from nobody from nowhere for nothing," she said.

The price of closure

Hernando County will spend about $65,300 for County Administrator Paul McIntosh's resignation, significantly less than the county's legal advisers said it might cost to fire him and then fight him in court. Here's how the settlement package breaks down:

Six months' salary $50,700

Leave payout $9,000

Insurance $3,600

Legal fees $2,000

Total $65,300

The insurance coverage expires after six months or after McIntosh gets a new job, which ever comes first.

_ Source: Hernando County

Human Resources Department