While Columbia County is abuzz this week following the recent announcement that former EMA Director Pam Tucker has decided to run for commission chair in 2018 — a seat currently held by Ron Cross — another big dog in the county should also be sweating bullets.
That official is none other than County Administrator Scott Johnson.
Not long after Tucker resigned from her position and accused Johnson of creating a “hostile work environment” that included “verbal attacks” on her, a few concerned citizens in Columbia County began coming out of the woodwork to address some of Johnson’s troubling past actions.
Just recently, The Insider received a copy of the exit interview of Butch Holley, the former community events manager of Columbia County, who resigned on March 21, 2016.
Holley’s abrupt departure approximately a year ago was puzzling for many people in the county, especially considering he had only been in the position for about eight months.
Of course, that particular department had experienced some turmoil over the past few years.
On July 27, 2015, Barry Smith, Columbia County’s director of Community and Leisure Services, suddenly submitted his resignation after more than a decade on the job.
After returning from a three-day vacation, Smith simply resigned, effective immediately.
Ironically, that was very day that Holley began his job as the community events manager.
So, what happened?
What was going on in that department that would force the long-time director out on the very day that Holley was hired?
Well, Holley’s exit interview shines a light on the dysfunctional manner in which some departments in Columbia County are being treated by the administrator.
“After an extensive interview process, Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith offered me the position on July 6, 2015. I accepted and my start date was set for July 27,” Holley stated. “On July 20, I received a phone call from Commission Chairman Ron Cross, asking for me to meet with him to discuss the position later that day. At our meeting, Mr. Cross told me that he was happy that I was taking the position, but that I needed to understand the situation that I was coming into.”
It already sounds ominous and it wasn’t even Holley’s first day at work.
“Barry (Smith) didn’t want me in the position,” Holley stated, adding that Cross told him that Smith had another employee in mind for events manager. “Mr. Cross told me that he and County Administrator Scott Johnson overruled Barry and that I had the job. They then told Barry that he wasn’t allowed to fill the open positions in the department, but that Barry had done so anyway.”
Holley said that Smith had hired three employees in the department without the approval of Cross or Johnson.
“Mr. Cross and Mr. Johnson then told me that I could fire any of the employees once they came to work for me at any time without any reason at all,” Holley stated. “They also told me that they weren’t sure how long Barry would remain an employee with the county, but that they wanted to ‘groom’ me to take over his position.”
A week later, it is Holley’s first day on the job.
“Barry Smith welcomed me to the office and then resigned when he met with Scott Johnson,” Holley stated. “Scott soon called me to his office to let me know what was going on and that he would assign an interim director until the position was filled. Assistant County Administrator Glenn Kennedy was assigned the role.”
With Smith gone and an interim director overseeing the department, Holley stated he received no guidance whatsoever.
“During the time of Glenn Kennedy as my supervisor, I was never provided guidance, motivation or direction as to exactly what was expected of my department,” Holley stated. “I was never provided 30, 60, or 90-day review meetings. I had a two-page summary of the position which was provided by the previous Community Events Manager as my playbook. I took it upon myself to figure out the best way to meet the needs of the events supported by the department, to cross train on financials, MUNIS Data system, and to learn the job to the best of my ability.”
According to Holley, he did a very good job.
“Over the nine months that I served in this role, I was able to increase rental income and events held at the Evans Towne Center Park to include several large concerts — the largest of which to be the MASH Fundraiser featuring Kid Rock, an event which brought over 14,000 paid attendees to the park in one night,” Holley stated. “I also increased sponsorship of the county events to $65,000 — eclipsing the previous sponsorship level of $48,000 in 2015.”
However, during this time period, Holley said he was having issues with one particular staff member. The employee who apparently Barry Smith had wanted to hire as community events manager instead of Holley.
Holley claimed that he was “verbally attacked” by this individual and he questioned some of her actions regarding the department’s financial entries.
As a result, Holley stated that he suggested to Glenn Kennedy that this employee be terminated.
“Glenn decided otherwise and suggested that we give it more time,” Holley stated. “This suggestion flew completely against what I was told by the County Administrator and the Commission Chairman when I was first hired.”
Holley said he continued to try to work with this particular employee, but he was still having issues with this individual and was getting no assistance from the county administrator.
In fact, Holley claimed County Administrator Scott Johnson had an unusual request regarding his communications with him.
“Of note, I would also like to point out that there were several times at the beginning of my tenure when I needed to ask Scott Johnson questions regarding concerts, events, and county sponsorships,” Holley stated. “Most times, I would email the questions to Scott, but after several different emails Scott asked for me to meet him privately in his office. Scott told me that for items of sensitive nature that I should call him on his cell phone or text the questions to him, since email is subject to open records requests by the media. I found this as an odd thing to say, but nonetheless did so.”
Then, Holley had a dilemma with a few of the promoters regarding the $10,000 rental rate for Evans Towne Center Park.
Holley claimed that one of the promoters balked at the price, stating that they had never paid for the rental in the past.
“Soon after, I met with Ron Cross, Glenn Kennedy and Scott Johnson to discuss the renal rate further,” Holley said, adding that Johnson decided the county could sponsor certain events and reduce the rental rate to $5,000. “I pointed out at the time that the rental contract as approved by the commission earlier in the year stated the county would not sponsor private ticketed events.”
But Ron Cross and Scott Johnson insisted that was not necessary, Holley stated.
“Scott, Glenn, and Ron decided that they could sponsor events that they chose, and that I should present the idea to the CLS Commission Committee later that month for approval. I did and sponsorship for Banjo-B-Que, Rock For Dough and Snowfest was approved,” Holley said. “These events would have been held at Evans Towne Center Park regardless of the county’s sponsorship, but the decision to sponsor the events cost the county $15,000 in rental revenue.”
While that bothered Holley, he decided it was the commission’s decision and let it go.
“In January, I was in the process of booking acts for the YuchiKiokee Festival in March,” Holley stated. “Upon receiving verbal and email confirmations that the acts would perform, I asked that a press release be generated for the event. While waiting on the final contracts to arrive, my supervisor Glenn Kennedy asked if I had all of the signed contracts. I stated that they were on the way.”
Apparently, that answer did not sit well with Kennedy.
“Although I had all signed contracts in hand a few days later, Glenn gave me a written warning that proceeding with a press release without all signed contracts was unacceptable,” Holley stated. “I owned up to the oversight, but pointed out that receiving the contracts was a formality and that all acts were booked. This was the only error that I made during my tenure in which I was reprimanded.”
But Holley stated that Kennedy continued to punish him for the minor mistake, even after the new director was finally hired.
“Glenn then decided that my probationary period would be extended and that I would be reporting to the new Division Director who would be starting in the next few weeks,” Holley stated. “From February through March, I was able to work with the new Division Director, John Luton. Working in the same office, John was able to see the work of the department, as we well as witness the frictional interactions with me and (the other employee.)”
On several occasions, Holley said he asked Luton to call a meeting between him and this other employee so they could find “common ground.”
“John told me that he would do so March 21,” Holley stated. “On the morning of the 21st, John met with me privately after meeting with Scott Johnson and Glenn Kennedy. John told me that they thought it would be best if I asked to resign. He never provided a reason why and was very upset when letting me know that he was told to do so.”
Holley stated that he felt he had no other choice.
“Knowing the circumstances and history of the former Director, I decided to tenure my resignation,” Holley stated.
And that was that.
It’s almost as if Johnson and the big dogs in Columbia County’s government treat their employees like disposable trash. One after another, just tossed out.
Employees shouldn’t be treated in such a manner and employers shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.
Well, rest assured, Columbia County residents: This isn’t the end of the dirt being dug up on Johnson.
There is much more to come, so stay tuned.