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Mum's the word on $24K gag deal

The Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections Office won't say why a fired employee got a hefty severance check in return for his silence.

By JEFF TESTERMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2006

TAMPA - In the office of Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson, the public information director is not a civil service employee. He serves at Johnson's pleasure and can be fired at his whim.

But last month, when Johnson abruptly asked for the resignation of public information director Steve Holub, it came with an unusual offer. Johnson promised to pay Holub $24,142 if he agreed not to sue the office and pledged to keep his mouth shut about anything he had observed during his eight months of employment there.

Why would Johnson make an offer of more than $24,000 in taxpayer money?

Johnson would not comment Wednesday. His in-house attorney, Kathy Harris, said nobody from the office would comment.

But Clerk of the Circuit Court Pat Frank, whose staff handles payroll matters for county offices, said he initially balked at cutting the severance check, saying there was no authority to pay Holub, particularly because he was an "unclassified" employee and thus enjoyed no civil service protection.

Holub was hired in November, bringing credentials that included experience with six public relations or advertising firms and a wealth of civic involvement. Johnson gave him new responsibilities six months into the job and approved a 10 percent raise, to $79,768 a year.

Why did the relationship disintegrate so rapidly? And why did Johnson want Holub's silence? Harris, who signed off on Holub's separation agreement, suggested asking Holub.

But he wasn't talking, either - little surprise given the separation agreement he signed. The five-page agreement, patterned after corporate releases, warns that disclosing the terms of the agreement may result in "legal damages."

After corresponding with Harris, Frank determined Wednesday that her office will cut the severance check for Holub. Harris, a former assistant Hillsborough administrator, cited a section of state law allowing tax dollars to be allocated for "any compromise or settlement of any claim" involving a county or municipality.

Holub is the second top official to leave Johnson's office in recent weeks. Last month his top administrator, Helene Marks, the former in-house counsel for Clerk of the Circuit Court Richard Ake, resigned after Johnson redefined her responsibilities. At Johnson's instruction, she spent most of the last few months of her elections office tenure at home writing an employee handbook.

[Last modified August 24, 2006, 01:10:54]

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