Tammy Hall, Lee County Board of County Commissioners
In other action
Commission Chairman John Manning says he will speak in private with County Attorney Michael Hunt about the potential for him to resign sooner than August.
Hunt told commissioners he would resign 10 months from now to deal with family issues in North Carolina.
If Hunt resigns at the commission’s request, taxpayers will have to pony up $92,500 — six months’ severance pay, according to his 2011 contract.
Hunt said “there seems to be some question” as to whether the county will have to pay him the money if commissioners makes him leave at an earlier date.
Hunt said his predecessor gave the county eight months’ notice before leaving the county.
Lee County Commissioner Tammy Hall protested Commissioner Frank Mann’s request for the county manager’s resignation Tuesday, instead of holding a conversation that focused on the actions of county staff in the run up to Medstar and VR Labs.
Hall sent out a memorandum last week that summoned nine county staffers to the meeting “to discuss both the (Medstar) and the VR Labs issue and the involvement of county manager and county attorney as well as the department heads and staff involved,” Hall writes in the Oct. 10 memorandum.
But Hall said Tuesday readers misinterpreted her request. She never intended to find out what roles staffers played in the controversies. She merely wanted “them to be in the room to hear the discussion going on.” Hall did not disclose those sentiments in the memorandum.
Hall’s discussion Tuesday focused on what she called, the “inappropriate and disrespectful” actions of Mann in calling on County Manager Karen Hawes to resign at the Oct. 9 commission meeting.
Mann also warned he would hold a vote to terminate Hawes if she failed to submit her resignation. His request was prompted by the mismanagement of Medstar, the county’s medical flight program.
“When a commissioner just throws out ‘give me your resignation or I’m going to make a motion to terminate you,’ that kind of takes me (aback),” Hall said.
Hall said the entire commission needs to have a conversation before Mann can ask Hawes to resign.
Hall wasn’t in attendance for Mann’s request, because she caught a flight to Washingon, where she attended a budget meeting for the National Organization of Counties, according to her office.
The commission has held seven regular meetings in the nearly two months since Hawes grounded the county’s medical rescue helicopters.
Mann was unmoved by Hall’s remarks.
“I just left there baffled,” Mann said. “She seemed what she was alerting us to (in her email) is she had some heavy agenda in mind, but nothing seemed to happen when she got there.”
Mann said he expects Hawes will have planned out an “exit strategy” by next Tuesday.
He agreed to postpone the vote to fire her yesterday, after Hawes told him Monday she needed more time .
Paramedic Dan Ceresa said he too thought the talk at Tuesday’s meeting was lacking.
“I would have liked to see a more thorough discussion of the issues,” he said.
Instead of an in-depth conversation, Hall told fellow commissioners they shouldn’t talk about Medstar or consider holding officials responsible for its mismanagement until November — after the clerk of court concludes an audit of the program.
Commissioner Brian Bigelow said there’s no reason to wait.
“The reason that the board has not previously discussed this and decided or been a part of what happened to Medstar is because the county manager didn’t bring that to us before deciding to shut the program down,” Bigelow said. “Now we find ourselves in the antithetical position of having to fix what was broken, in my opinion, broken by the county manager in the way she handled it.”
While Hawes knew the program had failed to meet federal safety standards, which prohibited the county from billing patients, she remained silent as her subordinates publicly claimed the shutdown was part of an effort to obtain a voluntary accreditation.
The News-Press later uncovered the failure to meet the safety mandates and $3.3 million the county improperly billed for flights. The billing transgression spurred an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration.
VR: Another letter
It wasn’t clear Tuesday when the commission will discuss VR Labs. The commission awarded the company $5 million to build a bottling plant and create 214 jobs.
But the company has already spent $4.7 million of the tax money and construction on the facility has ceased, with nine people on the payroll.
Hall called the agreement the county entered with the company “flawed,” but said there’s a debate between staffers in the county attorney’s office and economic development office as to who drafted the loosely worded contract.
“You do certain things and then we will pay you for those things,” Hall said. “But somehow it shifted and there’s accountability with that shift especially when this board’s not notified.,” Hall said.
Hall had the opportunity to review the county’s agreement with VR Labs, before she asked her follow commissioners to approve the $5 million grant at the Feb. 15, 2011, according to meeting minutes maintained by the clerk of court.
The commission Tuesday authorized the county attorney to send another letter to VR Labs, requesting information about its employees.