County Commission pleased with administrator’s work thus far

Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Commissioners are generally happy with the work new County Administrator Barry Burton has been doing.

Discussion of Burton’s review was part of a June 20 work session held at the Public Works Complex in Clearwater. Composite scores for his six-month review averaged 2.54 out of 3 for functional competencies and 2.57 for his work implement’s the commission’s strategic plan.

Burton began work as administrator Oct. 29, 2018.

Commission Chair Karen Seel said she had been “extremely impressed” by Burton’s job performance, especially his ability to reach out to the public and build relationships with the county’s partners. She is pleased that Burton calls her if any issues come up, instead of waiting until the weekly meeting to bring concerns to the chair’s attention, as administrators in the past have done.

Seel gave Burton a perfect score of 3, which means exceeds expectations, on every category except budget and financial management. In that category, she gave him a 2.5. A score of 2 means meets expectations. A score of 1 means needs improvement.

Commissioner Dave Eggers said he was “very happy” with the job Burton had been doing, especially his interaction with staff and his holistic approach to the transportation issue. Eggers gave Burton a perfect score of 3 in every category except practice superior environmental stewardship. In that category, Eggers gave Burton a 2.

Burton’s third highest scores came from Commissioner Ken Welch who also praised him for his relationship building with the county’s partners and employees. Welch said it was good to have someone to look at the county’s business with a “fresh set of eyes.”

Welch gave Burton a 2.75 in every category except delivery first class service, which he scored as a 3, and budget/financial management, which earned Burton a 2.5.

Commissioner Janet Long gave only four perfect scores. Long gave Burton a 3 for professional skills and characteristics; relations with the Board of County Commissioners; communications and reporting; and create a quality workforce in a positive, supportive organization. The rest of her scores were 2.

Commissioner Charlie Justice also gave Burton four perfect scores in the categories of professional skills and characteristics; create a qualify workforce in a positive, supportive organization; foster continual economic growth and vitality; and delivering first class service. The rest of his scores were 2.

Commissioner Pat Gerard gave Burton a 3 in the categories of professional skills and characteristics; create a quality workforce in a positive, supportive organization; and delivering first class services. Her other scores were 2.

Commissioner Kathleen Peters joined Gerard in only giving three perfect scores. Hers were for communications and reporting; foster continual economic growth and vitality; and delivering first class service. The rest of Peters’ scores were 2.

Commissioners decided to delay a decision on changes Burton had requested to the terms of his contract. Burton asked for three amendments.

The first was to change the parameters of his performance evaluation to make the county administrator’s annual performance and salary review consistent with other exempt employees. Burton’s contract now calls for the administrator’s evaluation to come after six months and every 12 months thereafter.

Second was to amend his annual leave. Burton’s current contract entitles him to receive 208 hours of annual leave effective on his date of employment. Thereafter he would be able to earn leave in the same manner as other exempt employees with 10 years or service.

Burton wants to amend his contract to allow him to earn leave in the same manner as other exempt employees with 20 plus years of service.

He also wants to change the amount the county contributes to his 457 plan, which is tax advantaged deferred-compensation retirement plan. The contract currently calls for a $15,000 a year contribution. Burton would like to increase it to the maximum allowed by the Internal Revenue Service, which would be $24,000-$24,500 a year.

Seel said if the change in the contribution to the 457 plan is approved, she would move to make the same change for the county’s only other employee that has a contract and that is the county attorney.

There was also discussion about a 3% pay raise for Burton. When Burton was hired, he negotiated a salary with a base pay of $267,500, which was more than former administrator Mark Woodard was making ($252,241) when he retired.

Burton had asked for a base pay from Pinellas of $272,000 as part of his contract negotiations. His base pay at his former job had been $253,260. He served as county administrator for Lake County, Illinois, for 16 years.

Before the contract with Burton was approved on Sept. 5, 2018, commissioners unanimously approved increasing the maximum amount the county administrator and county attorney could receive.

Before, the salary range had been from $165,547 to $258,357. With the change, the new maximum is $275,017.60, or $132.22 an hour.

Back in 2018, Eggers pointed out that if Burton’s starting salary were near the top of the range, it would leave no room for raises. Welch had disagreed, saying Burton would receive an evaluation at six months and then annually after that and could receive raises. Welch said if necessary, the commission could approve a new cap.

Justice brought up that same concern June 20 when he asked if it would bump Burton up to the top of the pay range if he received a 3% raise. The answer to Justice’s question was yes. However, County Attorney Jewel White pointed out that the commission could change the salary range at any time.

Commissioners were unable to come to a consensus about Burton’s contract amendments or pay raise. Most preferred to wait until after approval of next year’s budget — a time that is closer to Burton’s annual review to decide. Eggers also wants to make the decision at a regular meeting in the assembly room, not at a work session.

Gerard came up with a compromise that everyone agreed on, which was to go ahead and budget for the pay raise and changes to the retirement plans, but wait to make a decision in late September before the budget has to be approved.

If the pay raise and the retirement allowance were approved, Burton’s total compensation package, including his car allowance, would be above the top of the salary range, up to more than $290,000, and close to a line in the sand drawn in 2018 by at least one commissioner.

During Burton’s contract negotiations, Justice had said, “$300,000 is not something I would approve as long as I sit in this chair.”

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.