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Thursday, Jun 21, 2018
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Opinion clears way for hiring of appraiser’s stepdaughter

— Pasco County Property Appraiser Mike Wells got an advisory opinion from the state Commission on Ethics, clearing the way for him to hire his stepdaughter.

The commission is scheduled to vote on the matter Friday, nearly a month after Rachel Decoteau started her $46,000 a year job as an appraisal clerk.

Florida law prohibits elected officials from hiring relatives.

Wells, a former county commissioner now serving his fifth term as appraiser, was married to Decoteau’s mother for 19 years. They divorced five years ago, which, according to the commission staff, ended the stepparent relationship.

“We have been inquiring about this for the last few years,” Wells said. “We’d only gotten verbal opinions, but there was never a position for her. There is a position now, and I hired her. I’m confident she will be a perfect fit.”

He later said he had nothing to do with the decision — that his chief deputy, Wade Barber, hired Decoteau to replace an employee scheduled to retire this year. “She reports to people other than me,” Wells said.

In an email, Barber said the job was never posted and that he did not interview anyone other than Decoteau.

Neither Barber nor Decoteau returned phone calls seeking comment.

Decoteau has worked for the Supervisor of Elections office since 2006, serving as education coordinator and later as manager of the Land O’ Lakes branch. In her application, she wrote that she was leaving the $47,000-a-year job because there was no room for advancement.

Supervisor Brian Corley said Decoteau's salary was $39,722.  "All I can say is if I have an employee who has an opportunity to improve their situation, I don't want to hold them back," he said.

She has also worked as a private investigator, a criminal investigator for the Sixth Judicial Circuit Public Defender, and spent seven years as an administrative assistant for a real estate office. Decoteau is not a Certified Florida Evaluator, a requirement for her current job. Wells said she has two years to gain the certification.

“We like to train our own people,” he said. “You’re better off in a position like this with someone who’s bright, energetic and inquisitive and then teaching her. We had to have a top-notch person over there. We think she’s going to do great.”

Decoteau applied for an appraiser position but was hired as an appraisal clerk, a job that typically pays significantly less than even an appraiser trainee.

Hillsborough County Chief Deputy Appraiser Warren Weathers said $46,000 is an unusually high salary for an appraisal clerk — regardless of their qualifications.

“Our beginning appraisal clerks typically earn in the mid- to high 20s — maybe the low 30s if it’s a specialty position,” Weathers said. “They could be a rocket scientist from NASA, but we’d still pay them a clerk’s salary.”

All of Hillsborough’s elected officials utilize the county’s Civil Service Office for hiring and screening job applicants. The office posts all open positions, along with the salary range for each county position.

The hiring process is less centralized in Pasco County, where each elected official posts job openings on his or her website — not on the county’s main website.

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