Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Merrill's Contract Extended to 2020 Two Years Before It Was Set to Expire - But Who Knew?

While everyone focused on the election, the County Commissioners were busy taking some actions that probably flew under the radar of most of us.

The October 19th BOCC meeting included an agenda item to complete the annual performance evaluations for County Administrator Mike Merrill and County Attorney Chip Fletcher. That is normal procedure.

However……who knew the commissioners would also be addressing a motion to extend County Administrator Mike Merrill's contract to 2020? 
County Administrator Mike Merrill
The action was led by then Chair Les Miller. These actions do not occur without prior orchestration behind the green curtain. We can infer who orchestrated it.

Let's back up to November 13, 2014. That BOCC meeting also was addressing Merrill's annual performance evaluation. At that time, Merrill's contract was set to expire at the end of 2015. According to the video/transcript of that meeting on the county's HTV website, a motion was passed that day to extend his contract for three years through the end of 2018. 

Commissioner Miller initially motioned to extend Merrill's contract for two yeas through 2017 but the motion was amended by Commissioner Murman to extend for three years through 2018 which was passed unanimously.

This action in 2014 was fully reported that day by the Times (emphasis mine):
Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill earned rave reviews from county commissioners again Thursday, reinforcing his stature as one of the most powerful non elected public officials in Tampa Bay. 
Commissioners asked Merrill, 61, to stay on the job until 2018 and re-evaluated his $217,360 salary, implying he could be in for a significant raise. Merrill's contract was not set to expire until December 2015, but commissioners didn't want to wait. 
What was going on in 2014? 

County Administrator Mike Merrill was leading the transportation initiative for a sales tax hike and in November had just handed Parsons Brinckerhoff a million dollar no bid contract to start the Go Hillsborough campaign. 

Read the transcript or watch the video of that November meeting. The commissioners heaped accolades on Merrill that day including this bizarre statement by then BOCC Chair Commissioner Sharpe: "you [Merrill] just have a remarkable way of leading this county, you have a disarming personality."

"Disarming" is defined as removing feelings of distrust through charm. That statement and all those accolades of 2014 seem a bit stomach churning now after the failed, costly Go Hillsborough debacle Merrill led that created more distrust.

Back to the October 19, 2016 BOCC meeting. When the agenda item for Merrill's performance evaluation came up, Chair Miller handed off the gavel and made a motion to extend Merrill's contract, that was set to expire at the end of 2018, to June 30, 2020 - conveniently when Merrill's drop program expires.

Not one commissioner questioned why they should extend Merrill's contract more than two years before it was set to expire. Not one commissioner questioned why they should take such action right before the election of a new Board. Was that right? 

But what a deal for Merrill!

Few people in Hillsborough probably know Merrill's contract was extended October 19th. We searched online but could not find any media reporting about it except for a liveblog post made by Times reporter Caitlin Johnson during the meeting.
Times reporter blogs about October 19, 2016 BOCC organizational meeting
However, Johnson never included anything about the Board's action to extend Merrill's contract in her actual Times article, nor did Steve Contorno in his Times article. 

The Times wrote two articles about the October 19 BOCC meeting and the only thing reported by both was about angry transit activists showing up for public comment.   

The Times made such a splash about Merrill's contract extension in November 2014 when he was leading the Go Hillsborough campaign for a sales tax hike - that the Times supported. 

And last month the Times enthusiastically reported about the evaluation and salary increase of Mark Woodard, the County Administrator for Pinellas County. 

Why didn't the Times consider Merrill's contract extension in October newsworthy? Why did the Times ignore real news from that meeting? Didn't the public deserve to know Merrill's contract was extended two years before it was to expire and that the action was taken right before an election that would create a new Board?

When elected officials take unnecessary important actions right before an election that would create a new Board and the media ignores the real news but creates news narratives to fit their specific agenda….

That is why Americans distrust of the media and government is so "YUGE".

1 comment:

  1. Long past time for housecleaning at County Center.