Hillsborough Commission says no to additional severance pay for Bean
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05/04/11 Kate Bradshaw
WMNF Drive-Time News Wednesday | Listen to this entire show:

It’s been nearly a year since the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners voted to fire former County Administrator Pat Bean after it was found she gave herself and other county staff unauthorized pay raises. But the story isn’t over. Today Bean’s attorney told the board they owe her hundred of thousands of dollars in severance pay and legal fees. The board agreed to cover some of Bean’s legal fees – and expects a legal battle to ensue over the rest.

County Commission Chair Al Higginbotham said the sum Pat Bean’s attorney claims she is owed is a hefty one.

"Legal fees incurred and the request for the balance on the contract payout, it comes to $362,816.52. That's 362816 point 52."

When Bean was fired with cause last year, the county paid her $190,000 in accrued sick time and paid leave. Higginbotham said the county would probably rather get sued and found not responsible than pay anything beyond that amount, which consists of severance pay and legal fees resulting from criminal and civil investigations.

"The advantage of this is that if we don't resolve it today then we're relieved, it's kind of like Pontius Pilate washing his hands and saying, 'I didn't make that decision.' We pass that on to someone else and the judge can make that decision for us."

Ken Tinkler, Pat Bean’s attorney said not electing to pay the amount in full will result in a long and costly legal process for the board.

"The question is whether or not you want to expend more time, more effort, more fees. Obviously in any action we would seek, we would seek our reimbursement of the full fees that are due, in addition to the fees that it would have to expend on the case. This is what you'll have to pay to your own counsel. This is not something that will be quick or easy as none of this process has been. This is the one opportunity, though, to bring it to an end today by simply paying what you owe."

Last year the commissioners fired Bean with cause to avoid paying her a hefty severance package totaling more than $450,000. Tinkler argued that Bean is entitled to that money because she didn’t commit a crime. Commissioner Mark Sharpe said the county administrator can be terminated if found to have committed moral turpitude or an illegal act. Sharpe said the contract does not say an action had to be criminal in order to be grounds for firing.

"Illegal, not criminal. In a football game, illegal procedure, illegal use of hands, and in this case I think we had a case of an illegal use of hands and I'll get into that. An illegal turn, not criminal, certainly not something where you would take a person to jail or even charge them, necessarily. An illegal act, you know, if you take a football player who committed an illegal act, it's not like the FDLE necessarily has to get involved and the state attorney and you determine it's criminal, you just determine it's illegal."

Tinkler and Sharpe locked horns on that provision. Tinkler argued that illegal in essence means criminal.

"It is clear that Ms. Bean did not commit an illegal act. And you could go to the interpretation of her contract of how this was brought to the board in 2003, the entire intent was in dealing with criminal actions."

Higginbotham did concede that the county would probably have to pick up some of Bean’s legal tab. Robert McCrea, the outside attorney the commission hired for the case, said since Bean wasn’t found guilty of any criminal act, the county would probably have to reimburse Bean for fees she had to pay relating to a criminal investigation of her conduct.

"Well, I think it's pretty clear when it comes to the legal fees that were incurred in connection with the the criminal investigation that the county has an obligation to reimburse those so I think, and I don't think that the county is necessarily has to accept an all or nothing proposition. They can unilaterally decide to issue payment for those and take that issue off the table."

The commission voted unanimously to cover the legal fees tied to the criminal investigation, but not those Bean incurred on the civil side or severance pay. The commissioners said they’ll probably also have to cover legal fees for county attorney Renee Lee, who was investigated at the same time as Bean on the pay raise question.

Previous WMNF news coverage of Pat Bean

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