For months and months after Columbia County was hit by the crippling 2014 ice storm, EMA Director Pam Tucker was slammed with endless stacks of invoices relating to costs incurred by the county.
After the storm was all over and done with, it was estimated that the storm’s price tag for Columbia County was approximately $10 million.
But thanks to Tucker’s due diligence with recording and reporting the costs to both the state and federal emergency management agencies, more than 90 percent of those expenditures were reimbursed to the county.
At 3 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 12, a few hours prior to the ice storm turning ugly, Tucker’s phone rang and she learned that her daughter-in-law had gone into labor.
Tucker’s first grandchild, Aria Rose Smith, was on her way.
While Tucker had planned to arrive at the county’s Emergency Operations Center at 6 a.m. prior to the ice storm getting really bad, suddenly her plans changed.
When Columbia County Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Danny Kuhlmann arrived to pick her up and take her to the EOC, she just couldn’t do it.
Tucker realized she needed to be with her son and daughter-in-law for the birth of her granddaughter.
Therefore, Tucker asked Kuhlmann to drive her to University Hospital.
Even though her first grandchild was being born in the middle of the ice storm, Tucker still remained in constant contact with the EOC and was busy keeping people throughout the CSRA abreast of the storm situation.
She did an outstanding job warning residents of power outages, icy roads and falling trees throughout the day.
But guess what Tucker received from the county a few weeks after the ice storm?
A bill for $33.77. That was the estimated cost of Kuhlmann driving Tucker to University Hospital to see the birth of her grandchild.
Apparently, County Administrator Scott Johnson felt Columbia County should be reimbursed for helping Tucker.
Now, just a quick reminder, this is the same county administrator who charged a lavish $3,500 dinner tab at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Savannah to the taxpayers of Columbia County in 2015.
But Scott Johnson wanted to make sure that Tucker forked over $33.77 for a lift to the hospital?
Needless to say, Tucker promptly wrote a check and reimbursed the county.
She then went back to work, trying to get the state and federal government to reimburse the county millions of dollars for the costs it incurred during the ice storm.
Meanwhile, what was on Scott Johnson’s mind a few weeks after the storm?
His wife’s 40th birthday party at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion, of course.
Hmmm… that’s understandable, right?
After all, the “Big 4-0” is a milestone in anyone’s life and it should be properly celebrated.
A lot of work and effort needs to be put into the details of such an event, right?
Apparently, Scott Johnson thinks so, but he wasn’t the one doing all the work to make sure his wife’s surprise party was absolutely perfect.
Instead, it was Scott Johnson’s executive assistant, Janeabeth Wells, working her tail off to guarantee that the surprise party for Susan Johnson was a gloriously special occasion.
What a great assistant, eh? To volunteer her spare time, outside of work, to help plan a surprise party for her boss’s wife.
Well, not exactly.
There is no doubt that Janeabeth Wells is a dedicated and loyal assistant to Scott Johnson, but it appears that she was asked to help iron out the details of Susan Johnson’s party during regular working hours.
On the taxpayers’ dime.
Copies of several emails between Janeabeth Wells and the county’s former public relations manager, Calie Cook, were recently provided to the Metro Spirit.
Cook, who previously worked in the Columbia County Rental Facilities and Venues department, contacted Wells on Thursday, March 6, 2014, via an email to ask her for details regarding Susan Johnson’s surprise party.
In the email that Cook sent to Wells at 1:47 p.m. that day, she provided her a copy of the floor plan and contract for Susan Johnson’s surprise party scheduled for March 14.
“Let me know how you would like everything set up and what you would like the reader board to display,” Cook wrote to Wells. “I have to get this info to our set up crew no later than tomorrow late afternoon. Also, if you are having 200 people, we will need to schedule 1 deputy since alcohol is being served. If the guest count is closer to 250, then we would need to schedule 2 deputies. We will schedule the deputies for you and you can pay them at the end end of the night. The cost per deputy is $20 an hour.”
Cook also explained about the “discount linens” that would be available for the party.
“As for linens, we have 25-85’s for the round tables and 5-114’s for the food tables,” Cook wrote. “Let me know if that’s ok and if you need anything else. We have scheduled one of our best event managers to oversee this event as well. I’m not sure if you have ever worked with Diane, but she will be overseeing your event and she is WONDERFUL!”
A few minutes later, during the middle of the workday, Wells responded to Cook’s email.
“Thank you! I will get with Scott on this ASAP and send it back to you,” Wells wrote. “We are probably only going to have 150 people.”
Cook quickly shot back another email.
“If you have 150 guests, you may only want to have 18 or 19 tables set up, 8 people to a table,” Cook wrote. “Or if you want to have 6 people to a table, we can have 25 tables set up. Whatever you think will be best. Since you are only going to have 150 guests, I will make sure that only 1 deputy is scheduled. If you need anything else in the meantime, let me know!”
Wells immediately responded that Scott Johnson had already gotten Columbia County Sgt. Ray Childress to serve as the officer on duty during the party.
“Scott already has a deputy scheduled, but thanks for offering,” Wells wrote. “Scott also was thinking about 10 tables with 10 chairs and maybe some chairs along the wall. He doesn’t want people sitting around all evening… he wants them up and dancing!!!”
Nice party, eh? Sounds like a pretty good time was had by all.
So, what did Johnson pay for this surprise party for his wife, according to county records?
Johnson got a $200 discount on the rental fee of the Savannah Rapids Pavilion’s Grand Rapids Room. He was also offered “discounted linens” at only $100 for the evening.
Therefore, his grand total for renting the multi-purpose facility with a balcony overlooking the Augusta Canal and Savannah River from 6 a.m. until midnight on that March 14 was $800, according to county records.
So, $800 for the rental fee and a free party planner in the form of your own executive assistant working on county time to make sure your wife’s surprise party is flawless.
Not a bad deal… well, at least for Scott Johnson.
Following the party, Diane (the events manager working that night) wrote, “Everything went exceptionally well!”
Thanks, Janeabeth for working so hard to make Susan Johnson’s surprise party a huge success.
Taxpayers may want to check the calendar. It looks like Susan Johnson’s birthday is right around the corner.
Wonder what Scott Johnson has up his sleeve this year?
Wonder what it will cost the county?
Columbia County taxpayers should at least be grateful that there isn’t a Ruth’s Chris Steak House located somewhere in the CSRA.