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County manager resigns on commission’s terms

By Staff | May 6, 2009

Don Stilwell accepted the Lee County Commission’s terms of resignation Tuesday, ending his 16-year career as county manager.
The severance package Stilwell is due to receive totals just under $153,000. The package includes three months’ salary, accrued vacation and sick pay, 401K dividends and continued payment of his automobile lease and insurance for three months.
Commissioners voted 4-1, with Tammy Hall dissenting. Hall disapproved of the agreement because of the continued car usage.
Lee County Attorney David Owen said the automobile is in Stilwell’s name, and part of his contract stipulated reimbursement for payment, insurance and gas.
Owen added that commissioners instructed him on April 28 to construct a severance package that included “full benefits,” and the automobile is part of Stilwell’s contractual benefits.
This did little to placate Hall, who felt she was not given the proper amount of information ahead of time.
“I would have done something last week if I had all the information,” she said. “I don’t think this is right … it’s a very awkward position for us to be in.”
Commissioner Brian Bigelow, a longtime vocal opponent of Stilwell’s actions, also drew issue with the car, but decided it was in the county’s best interest for the board to move past the Stilwell era by approving the settlement.
Bigelow eventually called for the resignation of Deputy County Manager Bill Hammond and Assistant County Manager Holly Schwartz, but was met with strong opposition by Hall, Commissioner Bob Janes and Chairman Ray Judah.
Judah called for an investigation of Bigelow for his remarks, saying commissioners are not allowed under charter to give direction to county employees.
“We cannot do that as members of the board,” he said. “We cannot intimidate county employees.”
Commissioners unanimously supported naming Human Services Director Karen Hawes as interim county manager.
The terms of Hawes’ contract will be discussed at a special workshop. The date of the workshop has yet to be determined.
Hawes was one of three names floated by commissioners for the interim position, including Public Works Director Jim Lavender and Community Development Director Mary Gibbs.