Wednesday, March 17, 2010
As The Hillsborough County Commission Turns
This afternoon I rode my bike to enjoy some live entertainment. No, not spring training baseball.
I pedaled down Nebraska Avenue four miles to downtown Tampa to watch a bigger circus -- a Hillsborough County Commission meeting where there would be an attempt by a county commissioner or two to fire County Administrator Pat Bean, County Attorney Renee Lee and even an internal auditor amid charges of illegal salary raises, email snooping and an FDLE investigation into county shenanigans.
People actually munched popcorn inside the commission meeting room to watch the live theater and there was even a guy holding a Jesus sign on cardboard standing on the side of the meeting room.
The guy on the left is munching popcorn while the county commissioners are trying to figure out whether to fire Bean and Lee -- both of whom have lawyered up and had their attorneys in the room.
I wish I had popcorn like this guy.
I did not have a dog in this hunt. I'm just a former metro newsaper reporter who used to cover contentious and stressful meetings just like these and now I'm a bicycle guy who wants people to ride bikes and works with local governments to enhance bicycling.
As a concerned Hillsborough County resident, I have to say it was downright embarrassing to watch seven commissioners try to figure out what to do about Bean and Lee. A majority of commissioners want to can the duo, but the divorce compensation would be $700,000 -- a politically unpopular move.
So, the next move was to come up with a good reason -- cause -- to ax the pair. And boy, did the games begin with that one.
Hillsborough might be one of the biggest counties in the fourth most populated state in Florida, but this afternoon's commission meeting degenerated into a sniping, theatrical and devisive forum where the commission hired a top-notch labor lawyer at $310 an hour who put in two hours of work right on the spot at the meeting. The lawyer, by the way, is representing USF against ex-football coach Jim Leavitt who sued the college after he got fired by USF.
Here's the deal. Commissioner Mark Sharpe wanted to fire Bean and Lee with cause. Commissioner Ken Hagan wanted to fire the duo with or without cause. Commissioner Al Higginbotham wanted to suspend Lee with pay because he says she doesn't treat all the commissioners the same.
Sharpe wants the heads of Bean and Lee, especially after Bean gave her top administrators a 1 percent raise without commission approval.
Then you have Commissioner Kevin White, who pulled a Bill Clinton and made the romantic moves on young and attractive female aide. White got nailed with a sexual harassment suit -- a drama that has played out the past year.
When he said he knew about legal costs during the discussion of hiring an outside lawyer, boy was he not kidding! It also prompted a few cackles of laughter from the audience.
Well, White (a black guy) was pissed off at Higginbotham (a white guy) for trying to suspend Lee (a black woman) but not Bean (a white woman).
White used the race card during one of his schpiels and an audience validated White's move by uttering, "racism," during the meeting.
Here's Lee after the meeting. She had quite a fan club in the audience.
Commissioner Rose Ferlita, who will be running for Tampa mayor in 2011, played it safe and wants the $310-per-hour labor lawyer to study the contracts of Bean and Lee. And good ol' boy Jim Norman, a county commissioner who would rather be the sports commish of Hillsborough, also wants to wait until the FDLE investigation is done.
And there's Commissioner Kevin Beckner, the ex-cop who was mighty ticked off over the email snooping charges that surround the ongoing FDLE investigation.
I walked out of there three hours later feeling pretty sad to be a Hillsborough County resident after watching that performance.