Tim Ramsberger, former president of the St. Pete Grand Prix, took a $146,000 per year Pinellas County job while still serving as a Treasure Island city commissioner. The job at the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) was not advertised, even though Florida law requires that “any public employment accepted by a public officer” must be advertised. To be clear: a city commissioner is such a “public officer”.
The same law requires that the public officer be “subject to the same application and hiring process as other candidates for the position.” Ramsberger, an attorney, was the only applicant for the job. Ramsberger submitted a general job application to the county one day before he was offered the job.
The position Ramsberger accepted was “Assistant CVB Director”, which means he serves as second in command below CVB Director David Downing. Records obtained through a public records request by the Guardian show that Ramsberger was interviewed for the position on December 21, 2015.
One month later, on January 21st, Ramsberger (pictured right) submitted a “general employment application” to Pinellas County. Such an application is different from an application for a posted job. The county website tells applicants to submit a general application if they “don’t see” their “ideal position currently posted”.
The day after submitting his application, that ideal position became available: the CVB offered Ramsberger the $146,000 per year position on January 22. However, internal county e-mails show that Downing only sought approval for the hiring from Assistant County Administrator Paul Sacco 3 days after the formal job offer was made to Ramsberger.
Records show that Ramsberger started writing the press release announcing his own hiring before the CVB asked for permission to hire him, and one day before the hiring was approved. The position at that pay level, $146,000 per year, was only created in the county’s internal so-called OPUS system 4 days after Ramsberger had already been offered the job at that pay.
Assistant county administrator Paul Sacco approved the hiring on January 26th, four days after Ramsberger had been offered the position in a formal letter. The offer was “conditional”, but the letter only mentioned “background check” as a condition. The letter did not mention approval by Sacco or any other authority as a condition.
“What purpose did Sacco’s approval process serve if Ramsberger had already been offered the job and accepted it”, asked one former elected official who did not wish to be named. “This hiring highlights what county employees already know: cushy high-paid positions are not available to them. Those plums are for political insiders”.
Ramsberger also did not disclose his paid position as a Treasure Island city commissioner on this employment application, did not provide job descriptions or list “responsibilities and duties” for any prior employment, and failed to provide his education history. The county requires that 10 years of employment history be provided.
County policy is that “incomplete forms will not be accepted or considered for employment” and that “a false answer to any question may be grounds for denied employment, or for dismissal after beginning work.”
The Tampa Bay Guardian asked Sacco whether Ramsberger would now be terminated, given that his employment application was both inaccurate and incomplete, and that the hiring violated Florida law. We received no answer.
The county has said that Ramsberger’s acceptance of employment was verbal. In response to a public records records, the county claims that no written record exists of the date on which Ramsberger accepted the job offer. However, Downing said “probably when you do accept the job is when HR enters you into the system. You are then an employee of Pinellas County.”
Downing’s statement adds to other evidence that Ramsberger in fact “accepted public employment” (the statutory language) while still a public officer. Florida Statute 112.3125 therefore applies to Ramsberger’s hiring, and the position had to be advertised. However, the position was not advertised.
A human resources professional the Guardian spoke to said that an unadvertised hiring like that of Ramsberger hurts employee morale because it signals to current employees that the opportunities for advancement within the organization are limited.
In order to “avoid being the EEOC’s next hiring test case”, labor attorney Robin Shea (pictured right) advises that “when you’re searching for your new CEO, you don’t want to consider every candidate in your county who has a worker’s permit. But, generally, the less ‘cherry-picking,’ the better.” Shea is a partner with national labor and employment law firm of Constangy Brooks et al.
As Treasure Island city commissioner, Ramsberger was paid $5,400 per year, yet he lists this paid political position as a “volunteer position” on his LinkedIn profile.
Ramsberger cited “employee referral” as how he “found out about this recruitment and/or the possibility of county employment”, but did not respond to repeated questions about his hiring, including who referred him to the county website to fill out an employment application.
Questions directed at David Downing also went unanswered.
As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide.
Footnote: an earlier version of this article said county commissioner Norm Roche had applied for the position that Ramsberger was hired for. Roche contacted us and said that after checking his records, he is not certain that this was one of the 26 county positions Roche applied for (but not hired for).