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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Lee County manager comes under fire - accused of possibly forcing employees out of their jobs

Karen Hawes - County Manager
FORT MYERS - The Lee County Manager is coming under fire, accused of possibly lying to Commissioners and pushing County employees out of their jobs. District 2 Commissioner Brian Bigelow says, "This is information that's coming to the Board if it's inaccurate or found to be intentionally misleading we need to know that."


The County's Interim Director of the County's Department of Transportation (D.O.T.), Paul Wingard is the latest employee who has decided to resign. He simply states he's not happy with his job, "No and that's why I'm leaving exactly."
Paul Wingard- Lee D.O.T

Wingard has worked with the County's transportation department for 18 years, has never had a negative evaluation and expected to be promoted. When Four in your Corner's Mike Mason asked Wingard if he thought he was the number two candidate to fill the Director position he answered, "That's kind of what was indicated to me but I don't know that because I wasn't in any of the meetings when they talked about it and ranked people."
County manager, Karen Hawes, claims Wingard is leaving for a more lucrative position in the private sector. In a memo to commissioners she wrote:
"As with Paul, another engineer in the Utilities Division is leaving to earn more compensation and receive greater benefits than the county is currently offering."
But Wingard insists that's not at all true, "my weekly paycheck compared to what I'm making right now today to what I will be making is actually less, but there are some other things that go along with that. It has nothing to do with money."
Brian Bigelow - Lee Commissioner
That's one reason Bigelow has asked the County Attorney at Tuesday's commission meeting to launch an inquiry into what really happened. Bigelow told commissioners, "There appears to be a factual conflict between Mr. Wingard's resignation letter of June 1st and the County Manager Hawes' email of the same day explaining his resignation for us."
Board members shot down Bigelow's request for the inquiry but Bigelow still wonders if Karen Hawes is really competent to be the County Manager. He says, "I just have to say I have a question, I have a question about it."
Wingard's resignation is not the only one Commissioner Bigelow is suspicious about, in the past year alone two other transportation employees have left the County and Bigelow wonders if they were forced out. That's why he asked Karen Hawes about it directly but he says she didn't really give him a clear answer. That's the reason Bigelow is the only one out of 5 commissioners who has refused to sign Hawes' annual evaluation. Bigelow states, "I wanted to know more about why in fact they (employees) left. I still to this day am not clear as to why they were forced out."
Wingard didn't want to talk specifics on camera but in his resignation letter he wrote:

"It has become obvious over the past several months that my knowledge, expertise and abilities are no longer of value to the county and I have become less and less satisfied with the work situation."
We wanted to speak with County Manager Karen Hawes but she left today's commission meeting early. She says she's flying out to Washington D.C. to meet with legislative staff there. No word on when she'll be back but Fox4 Investigates will stay on top of this story.

To watch the Fox4 report click on:

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