So, the word on the street this week is Gary Bennett, Columbia County’s stormwater utility manager, has resigned after being placed on administrative leave last week.
Why exactly was there another abrupt resignation in Columbia County’s local government?
This resignation appears to be a result of a fellow employee’s complaint against Bennett.
The Insider won’t get into specifics about the allegations, but let’s just say that it involved a female employee who didn’t appreciate some comments allegedly made to her by Bennett.
The rumor is that County Administrator Scott Johnson was well aware of the allegations against Bennett and let them slide for some time.
It has been a bad year for Columbia County so far.
The criticism of Johnson’s leadership style continues to mount ever since former EMA Director Pam Tucker resigned from her position and accused Johnson of creating a “hostile work environment” that included “verbal attacks” on her.
In her letter of resignation, Tucker aimed at Johnson with both barrels.
“During the last few years, I have endured a hostile work environment by the administrator, who has an on-going deliberate campaign to force me out of my job,” Tucker wrote in her Jan. 31 letter of resignation, referring to County Administrator Scott Johnson. “Time and time again, I have tried to be strong and keep focused on my job since that is my passion and has been for a large part of my life. The latest of many verbal attacks on me is more than I can suffer.”
By Feb. 3, Tucker walked away from a job that she has loved for the past 18 years.
“As a professional, hard-working employee who truly cares about the citizens of Columbia County, I deserve much better than to be berated repeatedly by the administrator,” Tucker wrote. “I have had my job responsibilities slowly stripped away — one by one — because the administrator has been dishonest with the commissioners in regard to my leadership. I don’t know what his ultimate plan was, but I do know that my leadership has greatly benefited our community and the commissioners in countless ways. The administrator’s continuous harsh treatment of me has left me demoralized, frustrated, and dispirited.”
For the past two months, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office has been apparently conducting an “internal investigation” into Tucker’s complaints against Johnson.
In fact, the Board of Columbia County Commissioners decided it needed the sheriff’s Internal Affairs Division to serve as a neutral, third party to conduct the investigation.
“They are speaking with all the parties involved,” Public Relations Manager Cassidy Harris issued in a press release. “The investigation will address the allegations of a hostile work environment as stated from Ms. Pamela Tucker in her resignation letter along with allegation made in (EMA Deputy Director) Rusty Welsh’s resignation.”
Before Welsh resigned in January, he also claimed to have experienced “intolerable working conditions.”
But Welsh’s complaints weren’t against Johnson. They were against Tucker.
So the big question in Columbia County these days is, will the sheriff’s office provide the public a report regarding its investigation into the complaints by both Tucker and Welsh?
The rumor is that more than 150 people have been interviewed regarding the internal investigation by sheriff’s office.
That’s a lot of people with a lot of stuff to say.
One person who was interviewed by internal affairs told The Insider that the questions by the sheriff’s office centered mainly around Johnson’s management and leadership style.
Everyone in Columbia County is anxious to find out what, if anything, the sheriff’s office decides regarding the accusations of a hostile work environment.
And, of course, the gossip across the county increased that much more after Tucker announced she plans to run for Columbia County commission chair in 2018 — a seat currently held by Chairman Ron Cross.
Unfortunately, Tucker is reluctant to publicly campaign for her seat until the sheriff’s office finishes its investigation.
While that might be a very noble move, Tucker should consider going full steam ahead with her campaign and not wait around until there is a conclusion to the investigation.
The sheriff’s office is under no deadline, so the investigation may take a few more weeks or several more months.
Who really knows?
Of course, with department managers resigning left and right under Johnson’s leadership, perhaps the county administrator is simply digging himself into an even deeper hole.
But, regardless of what the sheriff’s office discovers, it will be up to the Columbia County commissioners to decide whether or not any action should be taken against Johnson.
Right now, most people are confident that Johnson has 100 percent support from Chairman Ron Cross.
But what about the other commissioners? Will they stand by Johnson until the end, too?
Things are clearly getting very uncomfortable for some local leaders.
So, stay tuned folks for the continuing saga of “As the World Turns… in Columbia County.”