I was asked the other day when I stopped fighting for Pam Tucker to get her severance pay from the Columbia County Commission. That was an easy one — I stopped fighting for it when she stopped fighting for it.
It was a little over a year ago that the worse “in-house” battle of bureaucrats (that didn’t involve a felony) in Columbia County history was playing out with longtime Emergency Management Director Pam Tucker on the way out the door, and County Administrator Scott Johnson left bloodied and insecure enough in his position that he started to put together an exit strategy.
Because some have forgotten, and others may not know, let me remind you where I stood in all this, with these words taken from my column in this space, Feb 2, 2017:
“Scott Johnson may survive this, and if he learns from the experience and becomes better, God bless him. But unlike when about two dozen other folks left (Columbia County government service) under odd circumstances, Pam Tucker has turned on the light, while slamming the door. He created a hostile work environment for her, and that in my humble opinion, is tantamount to termination. So play the lady what we owe her. As a Columbia County resident, I demand it. As a member of the media, I will hold you accountable for it.”
Some months later an investigation into the matter showed nothing “obviously” actionable concerning Johnson’s behavior as Tucker’s immediate supervisor, the “opinions” that she was “run off” were subjective, and obviously open to all kinds of different perspectives and personal conclusions. Many of us still believe there was a conscious effort to get Tucker to capitulate to a number of restrictive orders which would have greatly changed the way she did her job, and basically “retire” her ability to communicate directly with media and the general public. An ability believed by many to be her greatest strength and talent.
Understandably, Tucker chose to leave rather than yield to orders that she rightly or wrongly deemed to be destructive, demeaning and beneath her.
So here we sit in 2018, just a few months away from the election that will see Pam Tucker either returned to prominence, as the new elected leader of the Columbia County Commission, or permanently relegated to the sidelines.
During the last days of her tenure as EMA director, I was doing everything in my power to convince her to stay and fight. Not only did I think it was the right thing to do, but I knew the flip side to the equation meant that my home county was going to lose the best Emergency Management mind in the Southeast. It was one of the saddest days in my civic memory when she decided to opt out.
Rather than settle her grievances in a courtroom, Pam decided to fix the problem by replacing the “problem children,” and here we sit in the countdown to that historic election.
And as much as I have always loved Pam as a public servant, and a great community leader, ironically she is running against the one man, the only man, I had the confidence in to try to save her job, Commissioner Doug Duncan.
Doug and I go back to our National Hills pool days, somewhere back in the mid 1970s. He was a bit older than me, but not much, and if there was a more popular or better liked kid in the neighborhood, I don’t know who it was. I have enjoyed his friendship and counsel for over 40 years, and there is not a single elected official I have ever known that I respect more, or have more confidence in, than Doug Duncan.
Doug was working behind the scenes as hard as he could to head off Pam’s departure last year, but by the time he was brought into the loop, the damage had been done, and there was no turning back. I still believe fervently that Columbia County would have been far better off with her as EMA director than without her, and I have no idea if her return in a new capacity is going to right that wrong. One thing is certain, win, lose or draw, she won’t be the EMA director.
Doug Duncan’s plan to run for the Chairmanship this year was not going to be sidetracked, come Hell, high water, or Pam Tucker. It was part of a plan to help lead the county into an amazing period of growth and development that he has seen coming for years, and wouldn’t you know it, he was 100 percent right.
There was no way he could have predicted “Hurricane Pam” would be part of this election cycle, and to his credit, he is not abandoning ship; he is hunkered down for the long haul. God bless him.
I will definitely have to vote for one of these two in May. One thing is certain, I would never vote against either one of them. Ever.