LEE COUNTY — Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann wants the county manager out.
Citing inadequate leadership in the wake of the recent meltdown of the county’s Medstar air ambulance program, Mann said County Manager Karen Hawes either failed to properly oversee the program or was part of a cover-up.
“Decisive steps that could have prevented this disaster were never taken and that’s a paralysis of this management that I can no longer tolerate,” Mann said.
With his statements at Tuesday’s commission meeting, Mann joins Commissioner Brian Bigelow in calling for Hawes’ ouster. Bigelow was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. Mann said Hawes has a week to resign or he will seek her termination at next week’s meeting.
Since the county manager is a board-hired position, a majority vote of the five commissioners is all that is required to terminate Hawes. That means one of the three remaining commissioners — Tammy Hall, Ray Judah and John Manning — would have to join with Mann and Bigelow to fire Hawes.
“I’m not going to vote for it,” Manning said. “We’re not even halfway through the investigation and Karen Hawes is the kind of person that wants to get to the bottom of what’s going on, that’s my feeling.”
Judah declined comment. Attempts to reach Hall were unsuccessful.
Hawes’ authority has come into question since an investigation into Medstar, the county’s air ambulance service, ended with the program being temporarily shut down.
“I cannot believe these issues that culminated in the shutdown of an entire lifesaving program were unknown to her and she didn’t know a thing about it until day after the shutdown,” Mann said. “The reasons she announced for the shutdown had nothing to do with why it was shut down, and if she didn’t know, it’s a major failure on her part. And if she did know, that makes her complicit in, what I’m referring to now, as a cover-up.”
Hawes refused to comment on Mann’s opinion, stating her attorney advised her not to talk. She later said she “just wants to get back to doing her job.”
Within the last two weeks, Public Safety Director John Wilson and Deputy Public Safety Director Kim Dickerson resigned.
Hawes shut down the Medstar program on Aug. 21, saying at that time that Wilson and Dickerson told her it was necessary to seek a voluntary accreditation. However, an investigation revealed the shutdown was actually necessary after the medical helicopter program did not have the proper federal safety credentials and wrongfully billed patients and an insurer $3 million for transports. Additional investigation has revealed a program that has been in disarray for over a year.
The Federal Aviation Administration began investigating the improper billing two weeks ago.
Former Medstar pilot Jason Ausman said he is conflicted about the idea of terminating Hawes.
“I’m concerned that if they get rid of too much leadership right now, there won’t be enough time to put effective leadership into those roles,” Ausman said.
Mann said there are effective people in county government, like soon-to-be retired Clerk of Courts Charlie Green, who have voiced an interest in Hawes’ position.
Hawes was hired to the 5-year position by the commission in 2009 at a $170,000 annual salary. If terminated or if she resigns, Hawes would still receive a year’s salary.