If the information I am getting on the investigation report involving former Columbia County EMA Director Pam Tucker’s grievance against County Administrator Scott Johnson is accurate, she will likely get none of her requested severance package. But the report is not a total loss for Tucker, as Johnson does not come out smelling like a rose in the report, either.
While there appears to be no concrete evidence noted in the report that Johnson purposely constructed a “hostile work environment” in an effort to make Tucker’s professional life miserable, there are a number of anecdotes shared by current and former county employees that indicate Johnson won’t be winning any Dale Carnegie “Boss of the Year” awards any time soon.
Of particular interest in the report as submitted is a lack of physical documentation (audio tapes, email, etc.) that proves some of the most serious allegations against Johnson, specifically his alleged threatening words and profane tirades directed at county employees who have crossed him. Tucker claims to have several tapes of conversations between she and Johnson that might substantiate some of her claims, but she refused repeated requests by investigators to provide copies of those tapes, or at least to play them so investigators could hear for themselves.
I asked Pam this week why she refused to turn those tapes over, and she said she simply did not trust the process. Based on her prior history with the administrator, I can understand why she would not trust Scott Johnson, but I don’t believe she had anything to lose turning over copies of her material to the investigators. That refusal to cooperate puts her claims, serious as they are, in a different light. I told her I believed she was made a mistake not making that audio available.
Ironically, Johnson was in the habit of recording conversations as well and, unlike Tucker, he did provide investigators with access to his preserved audio. Whatever he turned over obviously would have served to bolster his claims that he in no way was attempting to purposely “run Pam Tucker off.” Quite the contrary, Johnson was given direct instructions by all five county commissioners to work things out with the popular EMA director and discourage her plan to leave her job.
The sincerity of his attempts is obviously up for debate, but since he provided recorded audio to back his claims that he did all he could to keep her, Tucker’s assertion that she was “hounded out of her job” comes out as less credible, certainly pertaining to his behavior in the waning days of her employment.
As any good employment attorney will tell you, unless your life is in danger, you should do any and everything possible to survive and maintain in a hostile work environment. Document the sins committed against you, and specifically any behavior that violates company (or county) policy. That is what Pam would have been wise to do. As it stands now, there does not appear to be much proof in hand to substantiate her claims against the administrator.
But there are several anecdotes that are shared in the report by unnamed (thanks to the “Whistleblower Act”) current and former employees that portray Johnson as occasionally heavy handed at best, and a profane bully at worst.
One story that was related to me months ago shows up in the report, and it involved a private party at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion, hosted by Johnson for his wife’s birthday. According to the unnamed witness, Johnson was requesting several accommodations that are not allowed in the facility, specifically the generous use of glitter in the decorations. When told he could not do that, the witness claims Johnson pitched a fit and shouted several profane declarations of his position of authority in the county.
Johnson denied it was a profane or threatening “conversation,” and apparently the only supporting witness to the employee who complained is himself a former employee who is considered by most in the county as “someone with an ax to grind…”
But as you will see in other interviews detailed in the report, there is a pattern of behavior apparently shown by Johnson that many believe is a cause for concern, and perhaps a “ticking time bomb.” Of course Pam Tucker will tell you that bomb already blew up in her face.
As much of a concern as it may be, there is again an absence of proof, or “on the scene” documentation, of these types of events with Johnson allegedly losing his temper, and that makes his immediate removal highly unlikely.
But that doesn’t shield him from commission action either. While I know all five commissioners in different ways, I know one that will not tolerate any hint of a bully in the seat of the administrator, and that is Bill Morris. I have seen the man go after real life bullies on the school yard, and he has no patience for such hideous behavior in public life either.
Nothing against the other four, but if Bill Morris has anything to do with what happens in the wake of this report, I predict Scott Johnson will be on the shortest leash Columbia County has ever seen. Pam Tucker told me that Johnson once told her that when it came to his own professional communication skills, he admitted, “I have got a lot of work to do on myself…”
That work might just come in the presence of a professional counselor or an HR expert, who specializes in “impulse control disorders” and “workplace communication etiquette.”