CLEARWATER — The Pinellas County Commission got the new administrator it wanted, but he didn’t get the $302,100 salary package he sought.
Instead, commissioners voted 4-2 to offer Barry Burton, an administrator for a county north of Chicago, $289,700 in total compensation. That includes base pay of $267,500 and another $22,200 for deferred compensation and a car allowance.
The tense 90-minute meeting to consider Burton’s contract turned into real-time negotiations once commission Chair Ken Welch asked permission to engage the person picked as the No. 2 finalist. He realized the board would not support Burton’s higher salary request.
That’s when Burton texted Welch, saying he would back off from some of what he sought, such as $61,800 for moving expenses. He had also wanted a cash payout for any of the money he didn’t use. The board rejected the request.
The board criticized Burton for his demands, which he said he based on pay that administrators earn in other states.
"We have employees who don’t make that in a year," Commissioner Pat Gerard said of Burton’s moving expense request. "That is kind of insulting to the people who would work for him."
Added Commissioner Dave Eggers: "How can he think about asking for a cash payment if he didn’t use the money?"
The board then took a 10-minute recess so Welch could negotiate on the phone.
After the break, Welch told the board that Burton would accept the original offer, with lower pay and up to $46,800 in moving expenses. Welch said Burton apologized for how negotiations had turned out.
The Tampa Bay Times first reported Burton’s salary proposal on Monday. Commissioner Karen Seel said residents "lit up" her phone and e-mail, adding: "There were some really upset folks."
Burton shouldn’t expect taxpayers to foot all his expenses if he has to pay a mortgage in Illinois and rent in Pinellas, she said.
"That’s his choice," Seel said. "That’s not my problem."
Burton then texted Welch to say he was showing his home to potential buyers later Wednesday.
Commissioner Charlie Justice said he struggled with the high salary and would never support paying Burton $300,000.
"It’s all about him, him, him," said Commissioner Janet Long.
Once the board and Burton agreed on less pay, Gerard encouraged the board to vote and give him a break since he lowered his demands.
He had sought to be hired into the job as though he has worked for the county for 20 years, which would have allowed him to accrue 256 hours of leave each year. He agreed to cut the request in half, starting the job as though he were a 10-year employee.
The commission then placed a provision in his contract to prevent him from collecting a payout for the 208 hours in leave time he would get if he is fired or quits in the first year.
Burton’s request of $302,100 was $50,000 more than what retiring administrator Mark Woodard earns. Woodward declined an employment contract, deferred compensation and a car allowance because other employees could not earn those perks.
After the meeting, Burton said he is committed to serving Pinellas County and thanked commissioners for placing confidence in him.
"I heard the concerns raised by the commissioners and the public," Burton told the Times in a text message. "In contract negotiations sometimes you go back and forth, and compromise. I am very glad we were able to reach an agreement. I will spend every day working to earn the trust and respect of the residents and the Commission."
He is expected to start Nov. 1.
Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.