LEE COUNTY, Fla. - Commissioners met for the first time in a month, and quickly dissolved into name-calling and a near shouting match over the awarding of contracts. At the same time, the county faces up to a 50-million dollar budget shortfall.
But first, they argued and battled over side issues. Commissioner Brian Bigelow set off the fireworks by suggesting top administrators award contracts based on people they know, and even people they meet on golfing outings. "I mean, that is not fair and not transparent," said Bigelow. That set off fellow commissioner Ray Judah.
"We have listened to four years of incessant whining and allegations by commsr. Bigelow. I do not want to impugn the integrity of the people in public works," shouted Judah.
Commission Chair Tammy Hall repeatedly pounded her gavel in an attempt to bring order to the back and forth arguing between Bigelow and Judah. At one point, Bigelow said: "Let's keep the personal attacks out of this chamber." Judah shot back: "Practice what you preach, commissioner Bigelow!"
Public Works director Jim Lavender denied any golf course contract business. "I resent this implication that we do business on a golf outing. We do not operate at all in that way," he said.
At the same time, Lee faces up to a 50-million dollar budget shortfall. Commissioners made only passing comments about that, but Co. Manager Karen Hawes told WINK: "We are looking at every department and every program. Some cuts will have to be deep. The board will have very hard decisions to make later this summer."
Three of the five commissioners have said, they will not raise the tax rate at this time to get more money. They prefer to cut deeper into programs and perhaps salaries to employees.