Commissioners Fire Thompson

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He was hired by Republicans, and now he's been fired by Republicans.

Hamilton County commissioners voted 2-1 today to fire County Administrator Patrick Thompson. Republicans Greg Hartmann and Chris Monzel voted to terminate Thompson, with Democrat Todd Portune opposed.—-

Thompson, 51, was hired for the job in October 2005 by then-Commissioners Phil Heimlich and Pat DeWine, when the Republicans controlled the three-member commission. Thompson survived the switchover to Democratic control, when Todd Portune and David Pepper both were in office, after Heimlich failed to win reelection.

Under his contract, Thompson will receive more than $220,000 in severance pay.

During his five-year tenure, Thompson worked to downsize county operations by about 22 percent, restoring it to 1998 spending levels. Most of the cuts were done to offset looming deficits in the county's stadium account.

In 1996, county voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase that was supposed to pay for the cost of building new stadiums for the Bengals and the Reds. Because tax revenues didn’t meet the unrealistic growth estimates given by supporters, however, they’re not enough to cover the massive construction debt still owed.

The deficit is expected to reach $25 million in a few years and could cumulatively total more than $700 million by 2032, when the Bengals’ lease expires.

In November, Portune proposed an emergency half-cent sales tax increase for one year, to raise $60 million, but that option had no support among his colleagues. Pepper, who has since left the group, wanted to reduce the property tax rebate granted to more expensive homes as part of the 1996 sales-tax deal, but that option also had no support.

Previously Hartmann proposed reducing the property-tax rebate in exchange for scaling back some property-tax levies for items like indigent care by up to 45 percent. It's unclear, however, if commissioners are legally allowed to unilaterally reduce levy amounts decided by voters.

Hartmann and Monzel said today it was time to move county government in a new direction. The pair will confer with area business and community leaders to find Thompson's replacement, Monzel said, likely foregoing a costly national search.

“It's time for new management,” Monzel said. “I'm looking for someone who will keep taxes low, and we're not going to raise property taxes higher to solve problems.”

Monzel did say, though, that there's no plan to hire Brad Beckett, his former chief of staff, for that job. Beckett served as Monzel's right-hand man at Cincinnati City Hall for years, when Monzel was a city councilman. Beckett didn't join Monzel's county staff earlier this month, however, instead intending to be hired as county administrator in neighboring Butler County.

Beckett was offered the job by Butler County Commissioners Don Dixon and Cindy Carpenter. He was to have begun his new job on Jan. 3, receiving a $90,000 annual salary. Dixon scuttled the deal abruptly on Dec. 31, however, leaving Beckett without a job.

The series of events led many political observers to speculate that Beckett might replace Thompson. Monzel flatly rejected the speculation in a telephone interview this afternoon.

"No, that's not going to happen," he said. 

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