The answer is interesting, at least for me.
Lee County’s last county manager was Karen Hawes, who was a 30 year employee of the County. According to news media sources, Karen Hawes assumed the county manager position in May of 2009 when Don Stilwell, the previous county manager, lost his job because he had been accused of sending explicit emails from his computer. Although originally assigned the position of county manager on an interim basis the Lee County government gave her the position permanently a few months later. She was earning $170,000 a year.
Prior to October 2012, Karen Hawes enjoyed wide support from Lee County officials. Her 500-page employment file contained many community letters of support and certificates of achievements. That changed in late 2012 because an incident that happened in 2009.
On August 17, 2009, a MedStar medical flight helicopter operated by Lee County crashed in route to an accident site. None of the three crew members were injured. Years later the NTSB report indicated that the cause of the accident was that the pilot flew into the water by not paying attention to her altitude. Although the pilot was not directly blamed for the accident by the NTSB, of the three scenarios for the crash that the report provided the likely scenario was that the pilot did not apply sufficient power to keep the aircraft at level altitude under the flight conditions it was being operated under.
After the crash the county purchased a 10-year old aircraft to replace the crashed one. According to a Lee County audit, the county manager’s office refused to allow the use of the insurance money to buy a new helicopter and instead opted for the used one. The county’s commissioners and the county management felt that the purchase of the used aircraft was a money saving purchase.
The crash investigation led to the exposure of infighting among the various public safety agencies at the County and the revelation that the County had improperly billed more than $3 million to patients of the air service. Ultimately the medical air service was shut down and the used helicopter ended up costing the taxpayers more than anticipated.
Although Karen Hawes blamed her subordinates for not truthfully informing her about the problems with the air medical service the County Commissioners nonetheless asked her to resign. Adding to the call for her resignation was that many in her community were criticizing her judgment after she authorized a contract for VR Laboratories for $9.7 million in taxpayer subsidized grants and other incentives. VR Laboratories never completed a bottling factory projected to bring 214 jobs to Lee County.
On October 29, 2012, Karen Hawes resigned as county manager after County Commissioners stated that she had “failed to properly oversee the program or was part of a cover-up.” Commissioners Brian Bigelow and Frank Mann were quoted in the press as stating that what happened with the medical air service fiasco was “indicative of poor management” by Hawes. Frank Mann wrote in Hawes’ 2012 evaluation that “Ms. Hawes many years of service to Lee County have been exemplary, but for the last two.”
Executive recruiting firm Bob Murray & Associates was contracted by Lee County to narrow the search from 70 to five finalists. They were paid $24,000. One of the recruitment flyers for the position stated;
“The County is seeking a decisive, professional manager who is approachable, articulate, ethical, and dedicated to providing public services. The ideal candidate will be a confident leader who has a proven record of being results-oriented, who will set a course of action with clearly defined expectations and hold staff accountable. A team-oriented manager who values and empowers staff and is fair, consistent and equitable to all employees is needed. Establishing trust and demonstrating integrity and transparency with the Board, staff and the community is essential. A willingness to look at new approaches and innovative solutions to improve operations and services will be needed. The selected candidate will have exceptional communication skills to include listening and disseminating information effectively throughout the organization. The ability to connect with the workforce and involvement in the community is important.”
On May 30, 2012 they announced the five finalists that are to be interviewed by the County this week. The five finalists along with interesting information about each are:
Roger Desjarlais is a former 22-year employee of Lee County. His last position was Assistant County Manager.
Charles Oliver was terminated from his position of Assistant to the County Manager in 1991. On a two to three vote, the County Commissioners refused to renew his contract. Three commissioners had raised concerns over his work performance.
Ronald Rabun touts his experience in negotiating spring training leases for the Philadelphia Phillies and the Pittsburg Pirates as an asset in serving as Lee County’s next county manager.
Robert Bartolotta resigned as the Sarasota city manager in 2012 after he was accused of reading confidential emails and deleting records during an investigation by various law enforcement agencies. He has not been charged.
And this brings us to the final contender of the position, Joyce Wilson.
Of the five finalists, two Robert Bartolotta and Charles Oliver left their former positions under unfavorable conditions, while Ronald Rabun has held many positions in Georgia and Florida as a city manager but for periods of two to three years each. Roger Desjarlais already lives in Lee County.
Interestingly the Bob Murray & Associates May 29, 2013 Recommended Finalists lists the last salaries reported for each of the five finalists as follows. Robert Bartolotta: $176,800. Roger Desjarlais: $130,000. Charles Oliver: $152,000. Ronald Rabun: $105,000. And, Joyce Wilson at $240,000, making her the highest paid contender.
At this point it is hard to determine exactly where Joyce Wilson stands in the running for this position. Already, the local Lee County media has made reference to the controversies surrounding her tenure at El Paso and there are many local El Paso community activists using social media to let Lee County residents know about their displeasure with her.
Joyce Wilson’s current salary is higher than the other contenders have disclosed and her salary is higher than the one paid to the previous County Manager. How this will play out is yet to be seen. For her part, Joyce Wilson is playing coy with the media about her seriousness in landing the position although she is expected to travel to Lee County for an interview.
All of this is an anecdotal footnote to the saga that is El Paso politics. One thing I learned about pattern analysis is that there are a lot of elements that seemingly have nothing to do with each other and then an event happens that ultimately makes that one inconsequential element the key that connects all of the dots. I wonder if this is such an event.