The hearing took place in Tampa and Tallahassee via a video conference. The administrative hearing is similar to a trial in that the defendant and the prosecutor present evidence and testimony from witnesses to support their respective sides. When the Ethics Commission found probable cause that Lee violated ethics laws in Sept 2011, she refused to admit any wrongdoing and opted to have a judge decide her case. It was a public hearing but because it was not publicly noticed, only one member of the press and myself showed up to watch.
Lee appeared in Tallahassee to give her testimony. The witnesses appeared at a hearing room in Tampa to give their testimony. The witnesses giving testimony were former County Administrator Pat Bean, County HR Director Christina Swanson, former Administrative Aide to the County Attorney, Beth Novak.
Since this scandal began, Bean and Lee have given conflicting stories with regard to who’s responsible for handing out the unapproved raises.
Bean has already gone before an administrative judge in a separate hearing seeking to quash her own ethics violations. The judge in that case has not yet issued a final ruling.
You would have to believe in the tooth fairy to find Lee’s testimony credible in this case. Why?
Try this on for size. In Wednesday’s hearing she testified that when she gave her legal opinion to HR staff regarding her eligibility to receive monetary awards, she didn’t know they were talking about a salary increase. She thought they were talking about a different type of monetary award. Huh??? When the prosecutor questions the credibility of her claim that she was unaware of the actual type of award she received, she then says that she never knew she had received a salary increase. That’s when the tooth fairy started dancing around the room. She actually said that, even though she received the unapproved salary increase in 2007, she only realized it when the internal auditor reported it to the county commission in 2009. And once it was discovered she said she gave it back. She explained that she didn’t want the raise if the commission didn’t think she should have it. If you were given a raise and you thought that you earned it, would you just give it back without any argument?
The testimony of Lee’s Administrative Aide, Beth Novak and former County Administrator Bean conflicts with Lee’s testimony, big time. Novak, Lee’s personal aide, says that Lee called her into her office and told her, "I think I’m entitled to the award (salary increase). Get me a copy of my employment contract so I can review the benefits portion." Lee says the opposite happened. She says that Novak approached Lee and tried to convince her that she’s entitled to it. That’s an interesting scenario. The administrative aide gives legal advice to the head attorney and the attorney takes it, but later blames the aide for pushing her to take the unapproved increase. Sound reasonable? Again, if you believe in the tooth fairy, anything is plausible.
The prosecution and defense have to submit their written final arguments to Judge Elizabeth McArthur by June 11, 2012. She will render her ruling after that but gave no firm commitment as to the timeframe.
We’ve been waiting for justice for 3 years. What’s a few more months?
Blogger's Note: George Niemann is one of the complainants in the Renee Lee ethics case. It should be understood that he is not a reporter and is expressing his views on the subject matter.