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Commissioner did not violate charter, county staffer finds

By Staff | Jun 17, 2009

Lee County Commissioner Brian Bigelow received a stern lecture — but not much else — from his fellow board members Tuesday for giving direction to county management staff.
Commissioners took no vote and no disciplinary action against Bigelow, who on May 4 reportedly told deputy county manager Bill Hammond and assistant manager Holly Schwartz not to attend a May 5 meeting regarding the future of then county manager Don Stilwell’s employment.
Commissioners were concerned Bigelow violated a county charter directive that states board members can only give direction to the four employees under their purview: county attorney, manager, hearing examiner and port authority director.
Lee County Attorney David Owen said he consulted with the Office of the Governor to determine the possible disciplinary action against Bigelow and gave commissioners three options: censure, verbal reprimand or no further action.
Though Bigelow admitted he spoke privately with Schwartz and Hammond, Owen advised the board that since both showed up at the May 5 meeting, Bigelow did not threaten as much as he acted inappropriately.
“There needs to be a clear and distinct violation of the matter,” he said. “It falls more into the appropriateness of the commissioner’s conduct.”
Commissioners were divided on the best course of action, though all agreed that the county needed to move past the issue.
Commissioner Bob Janes said he feels Bigelow should know better, having served 2 1/2 years on the board. He said the message being sent to residents is most important.
“We cannot have our commissioners running around taking action by themselves,” Janes said. “We have to be clear we do not tolerate this behavior.”
Commissioner Frank Mann wanted no action taken, quoted Bible verse, and said all commissioners have been guilty of minor conduct violations at one time or another.
“Perhaps we all have been guilty on occasion,” he said. “I would find it highly hypocritical passing a motion criticizing a commissioner for what we have all been guilty of.”
Tension erupted between Mann and Chairman Ray Judah because of his statement as Judah took offense to Mann’s claim.
Bigelow, for his part, had little to say about the proceedings, other than maintaining his innocence.
“I would disagree with accusations I did something wrong,” he said. “I have no ill will against those who thought I was doing wrong, and I hope they have no ill will toward me … I hope we can move on and continue to work together.”