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Just when you think things can’t get any crazier, they do. The reasons behind Lee County Manager Karen Hawes’ latest plan to hire a public relations firm to help fix the fiasco that is the emergency medical helicopter program are not only confusing, but an insult to taxpayers and a huge conflict of interest.

We have nothing against hiring a public relations firm when the situation calls for it, but this company is co-owned by former EMS Deputy director Chris Hansen and his wife, Teri. County officials claim they contracted with the firm at a cost of $15,000 to use Hansen’s expertise in dealing with the FAA. They say the company will not be providing press releases on any developments with the Medstar program.

If that is the case, why not hire Hansen or someone else as a consultant and eliminate the perception of conflict of interest that the company was hired to put a positive spin on damaging information?

Hawes’ credibility is on the line now and there may be no way to recover. Commissioner Brian Bigelow said Tuesday she should step down: “Ms. Hawes, you can’t possibly survive this.”

Hawes must know she has not handled this situation well. We understand she may not have known that pilots were flying without the proper credentials to bill patients for approximately $3.5 million. But she and her staff did not ask enough questions when all this started to unfold.

When the first release was sent by the county last month, saying the Medstar program was being grounded to apply for a voluntary state accreditation, she should have started asking questions then. You don’t ground a program that saves lives for an accreditation no other government agency has or needs.

We urge Hawes to rethink her position on hiring a public relations firm that clearly represents a conflict of interest. This is county managing 101. If the community is already skeptical about how she handled the problem and even more skeptical of the deception that has existed for over a year, then don’t compound it by adding a conflict of interest concern.

Hawes is receiving bad advice. All that is needed is for people to step up and tell the truth and take responsibility.

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