County manager forced out
Lee County soon will be looking for a new county manager.
Karen B. Hawes and the Lee County Commission came to an agreement on an exit strategy for Hawes, who was forced to step down Tuesday, the latest victim of the Medstar medical helicopter service shutdown in August.
The Commission voted 4-1 to accept Hawes’ resignation, who said nothing as she quietly picked up her things and left shortly after the vote was rendered.
The lone dissenting vote was from Brian Bigelow, who for months has championed for Hawes termination.
Bigelow wanted her fired with cause on Tuesday, which would have meant Lee County would not be on the hook for one year’s pay at $170,000, full year’s health insurance, sick and holiday pay and vacation leave boosting the package to more than $250,000.
All those items are stipulated on her contract, which she signed upon being named city manager in 2009.
The resignation means she will get that contractual severance package under the condition, Commissioner John Manning said, there would be no lawsuit filed by Hawes unless the county disparages her.
Manning, who has worked with Hawes since 1985, was sorry to see her go and wished the investigation process had been finished before these events.
“I appreciate her long service to Lee County, the innovations she tried to put in. We’re going to miss her,” Manning said. “I think once those processes are done, my feeling is that she won’t be culpable for any of the actions she’s accused of.”
Hawes’ last day is Oct. 31. The commission will get together next week to determine an interim manager. Manning said they would look internally for that, then begin to look regionally for a full-time replacement.
Hawes has been at the center of a controversy involving the Aug. 21 grounding Lee County’s MedStar emergency helicopter service, among other things.
Hawes said that Public Safety Director John Wilson and Deputy Public Safety Director Kim Dickerson told her a shutdown of MedStar was necessary to seek a voluntary accreditation.
An administrative review revealed the shutdown was necessary after it was found MedStar did not have the proper safety credentials and wrongfully billed patients and an insurer $3 million.
In the fallout, Wilson and Dickerson resigned.
Also, Hawes’ subordinates were involved in a situation where the Economic Development Office gave a $5 million grant to VR Labs, a health food manufacturer looking to create more than 200 jobs building a bottling plant, but with $4.7 million spent, the company has not fulfilled its duties, Commissioner Frank Mann said.
Mann said VR Labs now is in a legal battle with the general contractor hired for its remodeling. Both parties have filed lawsuits over the issue.
Mann announced on Oct. 9 that at the following Tuesday’s regular meeting, he was going to make a motion calling for the commissioners to terminate Hawes’ contact as county manager.
On Monday, the day before the meeting, Hawes had approached Mann and explained that she might be able to craft an “exit strategy” that would enable her to resign instead.