Hillsborough County Commissioners and Pat Bean: The saga continues

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Yesterday environmental activist Terry Flott sent an e-mail to Commissioners, demanding that they take action immediately on Bean and Lee, and not wait until next week,

immediately put both Bean and Lee on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the emergency meeting -- until such time as this situation is investigated and disposition determined. Further, they should immediately have all their access codes disallowed and their keys returned. They should be instructed that no contact is to be made with county staff during this period of time. Staff should likewise be warned against speaking with either of them during this time.

The severity of these charges demands strong measures to protect the integrity of the investigation process and the workings of our County. You should not allow employees under such serious charges to remain on the job. This is unwise and is not tolerated in the business world; neither should it be tolerated in Hillsborough County government. We call upon you to show leadership and take these necessary actions and precautions immediately.

And what about the fate of Renee Lee?  The Tampa Tribune reports the county attorney as saying that she's innocent in this latest imbroglio:

n a memo to commissioners Monday, Lee said, "Neither I nor any member of my office has sought information independently regarding any FDLE investigation."Lee said in an interview that record requests would have come from outside her office and her staff merely complied with them.

"We don't initiate public records requests," Lee said. "We just review them."

Lee and her staff have been working closely with Tampa officials in recent days on ballot language for the proposed one cent sales tax referendum that Commissioners are still not that close to voting on yet.  Can the county afford to lose her at this time?

And what about Jim Barnes?  The internal auditor/whistleblower has had a short but checkered tenure with the county, as several board members have been extremely critical of his work and work habits over the past year. Will his performance be up for scrutiny tomorrow as well?

Hopefully by the end of tomorrow we'll have more clarity on all of this.

Wednesday afternoon Hillsborough County Commissioners will hold a special discussion in which the fate of County Administrator Pat Bean's career with the county may be ultimately resolved.

The latest controversy involving Bean erupted last week, when the St. Pete Times reported that a report by internal performance auditor Jim Barnes said that Bean and County Attorney Renee Lee had gone thru e-mails written by Barnes and two of his employees. Bean admitted last week that she requested the e-mails, but said she never actually read any of them.

Now Bill Varian with the Times reports that County Commission Chair Ken Hagan has requested copies of the contracts for Bean, Lee and Barnes in advance of tomorrow's discussion.

Media attention has focused in the past week almost exclusively on Bean since she was already considered to be on thin ice with Commissioners on a host of other issues already (Bean survived a BOCC on her fate just last December) .  Her request to look at the e-mails could be illegal, since those emails involved an investigation that the FDLE was conducting on pay raises that Bean and Lee gave themselves back in 2007 without board permission, which Commissioners did not learn about until last year.  Under state law, government e-mails are public records and can be accessed by anybody, but there are exceptions for information on active criminal investigations and audits.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner confirmed with CL this morning that he has contacted the FDLE about looking into this latest revelation involving Bean, saying that officials he spoke with at the law enforcement agency said "it was of interest to them."

In the light of these most recent revelations, there have been opinion pieces written in local media (including in this space the day after the story broke) challenging the County Commissioners about what they'll do about Bean, since they have talked a lot of smack about how unhappy they've been with her performance over the past couple of years, yet have only required her to give a "vision" statement about clearly defined goals and objectives so they .

In the past, some Commissioners have said that with all of the issues on the County's plate, that it would be too disruptive to terminate her (her contract runs for a couple of more years).  Do they still feel that way?  The issues of the day are as formidable now as they were when they initially grew angry with her; currently the county is looking at cutting some $50 million from its budget, and is working against the clock to try to craft language for a ballot referendum on transportation.

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