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Two firm candidates for Lee county interim manager

Commission will discuss temporary replacement today.

Oct. 29, 2012

If you go

» What: Lee County Commission meeting
» When: 9:30 a.m. today
» Where: Old Lee County Courthouse, 2120 Main St.


There are two firm candidates for interim Lee County manager, and one on the fringes.

Those who sent resumes to the county commissioners for consideration at today’s 9:30 a.m. meeting are Roger Desjarlais, the county’s chief deputy property appraiser and former Broward County manager, and Les Cochran, former president of Youngstown State University and former Lee County School Board candidate.

Commissioners will discuss and may select the temporary replacement for outgoing County Manager Karen Hawes at the meeting at the Old Lee County Courthouse, 2120 Main St.

Hanging on the fringes is Charlie Green, longtime Lee County clerk of court, who chose not to seek re-election this year. While protesting that he does not want the job, Green sounded Monday like he would take it if asked.

Who’s the favorite?

“Rumor downtown is former assistant (county commissioner) Roger Desjarlais may have the votes,” Commissioner Frank Mann wrote in a Friday email to Cochran, who asked about the position..

Hawes resigned amid sharp criticism of her handling of the county’s medical flight program, Medstar, which failed to meet federal safety mandates for nearly a year. County officials also violated federal rules by billing patients for $3.3 million in medical flights.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Brian Bigelow sent a memo Thursday to all county department directors, asking how many years each had worked for Lee County, and how many years each had served as a director. He also asked if any would be willing to serve as interim manager and who they would select to serve as interim director of their own departments. Bigelow, who has been Hawes’ harshest critic, was out of town and could not be reached for comment Monday.

Desjarlais has been in his current position for nearly five years. He previously served as Broward County manager for nearly eight years and also served as assistant county manager for Lee County from 1993 to 1997. He said his goal has always been to return to his hometown and serve his local community in a leadership role. “I’ve been in local government for 33 years,” he said. “It’s what I do.” Desjarlais said his first job was as an ambulance attendant trainee for the county in 1975.

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Cochran said the commission can make three choices for its interim county manager: a caretaker from in-house, “who doesn’t cause any ripples”; someone the board “really likes” and does what makes the commissioners happy; and a manager/consultant who focuses on accessing an organization and suggests needed changes.

Cochran sees himself in the third category. “I guess my whole life has been in public service,” he said Monday.

Cochran said the commissioners can save the county perhaps 25 to 35 percent of the cost of hiring an interim manager by choosing him. His cover letter to commissioners says he could work on a monthly service contract that doesn’t require health insurance or retirement benefits.

Green said the county changed direction in the last election and has an opportunity to make significant, positive changes. As new leaders come in, the management team should also be restructured to reflect the new energy, he said.

The county should get someone 40 to 45 years old with experience, lots of “vinegar” and a vision, he said.

What if Green were drafted by commissioners?

“If I got drafted, and this is just hypothetical, I would be coming in there and make changes,” Green said. People would know “We’re on fire. We’re going somewhere,” he said.

Commission Chairman John Manning sent his own Thursday memo to the commissioners saying that “it may be prudent” to bring in an interim manager who does not want the permanent post. “That seems to me to be the best way to go,” he said. Then the commission can do a national search.

Mann is eager to get the interim decision over with. If the board doesn’t decide on someone today, he hopes the choices can be narrowed down to two or three, with a final decision made the next week, he said. “Time’s a-wastin.”

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