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$65,000 buyout "a good deal'

The deal for County Administrator Paul McIntosh's hurried departure started coming together Monday.

County Commission Chairwoman Nancy Robinson sat in on the county Legal Department's negotiations, conducted over the phone with McIntosh's attorney, Robert F. McKee of Tampa.

At first, McIntosh approached the County Commission with a settlement package that would include nine months of severance pay, vacation and leave pay, insurance coverage and $2,000 in attorney's fees _ a package that would have been worth about $90,000. In exchange, he would resign and agree not to sue Hernando County.

"No, we can't do that," Robinson said.

McIntosh, under fire in recent months for taking gifts from business leaders, mishandling problems in the Emergency Management Department and the questionable splitting of contracts for a utilities consultant to avoid the bidding process, was only eligible for four months of severance pay in his contract.

The parties reached a compromise: six months of severance pay, vacation and leave pay, insurance coverage and the attorney's fees. All told, when the agreement is finalized as expected today, McIntosh walks away from the situation with about $65,000. County commissioners wash their hands of McIntosh and do not have to worry about a lawsuit for wrongful termination.

Robinson and her fellow commissioners on Tuesday voted 4-1 to accept the compromise offer. Commissioner Mary Aiken opposed getting rid of McIntosh.

"This is a good deal for Hernando County," Robinson said Wednesday. "We're really saving money and preventing the taxpayers from paying a hefty future bill."

Commissioners had reason to believe McIntosh would fight a dismissal without a severance package. He hired McKee, a prominent Tampa attorney who also represents Palestinian professor Sami Al-Arian, who is suing the University of South Florida for wrongful termination.

In the mid 1990s, after a controversial stint as administrator of El Dorado County near Sacramento, Calif., McIntosh worked out a $90,000 severance package. He had come under fire over the handling of a $450,000 community development block grant. He was later cleared of any wrongdoing in his handling of the grant.

Kurt Hitzemann, assistant county attorney, told Hernando commissioners on Tuesday that as they weighed the decision whether to pay off or fight that it would not be a cheap proposition to call McIntosh's bluff.

Negative comments by some commissioners, in meetings and in local newspapers, could be used to argue interference in his job, Hitzemann said.

"I'm not saying he has a good case," Hitzemann said. "There is a case. If there's a case, it's going to cost money."

And it could cost upward of $1-million if the county lost, the assistant county attorney warned. Even if the county won or settled, it likely would cost more than the $65,000 required to write a check and walk away.

Although McIntosh had been in trouble with commissioners over the contracts, gifts and personnel problems, Hitzemann told commissioners they lacked sufficient grounds to fire McIntosh for cause.

McIntosh had not reported the gifts to commissioners or the state. But because the gifts were not considered "influential" under state statutes, the guideline Hitzemann used, they did not rise to the level of illegality, the attorney said.

McIntosh could not be reached for comment throughout the day Wednesday, but his attorney told the St. Petersburg Times that the compromise agreement satisfies McIntosh.

"We have a handshake agreement, and I fully expect my client will sign it, get on with his life and the county can get on with finding a new administrator," McKee said in a telephone interview.

Also, McKee said, McIntosh expects "the commissioners, when asked for references, will be truthful in their assessments of him."