Listen to the actual phone call here:
As allegations of perhaps improperly profiting from contracts that collected taxes for Harlem and Grovetown began to mount against Columbia County Tax Commissioner Kay Allen this week, a window into one former county employee’s life working for this powerful constitutional officer has swung open.
After 15 years working for Allen, former Chief Deputy Tax Commissioner Dwight Johnson has begun to talk about what it was like inside the tax commissioner’s office shortly after he admitted to Allen that he was interesting in running for her seat in 2016.
“Mrs. Allen has been my only boss since I started there in 1998,” Johnson said. “My dedication to her was on a canine level. I have never had any performance issues. Not one. I have given my life to that office up there. And I’ve done it willingly because I feel like I have helped the people of this county.”
But as soon as Johnson made the mistake of telling Allen that he planned on running for tax commissioner in 2016, his relationship with his long-time boss quickly deteriorated, he said.
“In 2011, I had four people come to me who wanted me run against her for tax commissioner,” Johnson explained. “And it was four people who could not stand her. It’s not that they thought, ‘Oh, Dwight is so wonderful.’ They just wanted somebody to run against her.”
While Johnson had always hoped to become the county’s next tax commissioner, his loyalty was still to Allen. So, he decided to tell Allen that he had been approached to run for her seat.
“She said, ‘Well, I’m glad that you came to me and told me that. Let me think about it for a day or so and we’ll talk about it,’” Johnson said, adding that a couple of days later she called him into the conference room. “She comes in there and sits down and says, ‘This is what I want you to do. I want to retire. I want to homeschool my new grandbaby. The way it looks now, two years and one day into my 2012 term, I want to retire and I’m going to appoint you as tax commissioner.”
Johnson says he was thrilled by Allen’s proposal, but then she added a stipulation.
“She said, ‘But this is what I want you to do. I want you to keep your guys thinking that you are going to run and, the day of qualifying, I want you to leave and go to the beach,’” Johnson said.
Johnson thought it was an odd request.
“I thought about it for a minute and I decided, ‘Well, what are my choices? I really don’t have any. It is either do what she says or I’m fired,’” he said.
So, Johnson agreed to follow Allen’s plan.
“I believe qualifying was May 25 and I think I was in Daytona, Fla., looking at the beach on May 25, 2011,” he said.
For the next few years, Johnson believed he was on the path to becoming the next tax commissioner. That was until this past May, when he says Allen reneged on their agreement.
It all began when he simply asked Allen if he could receive training on some of the paperwork she handles as tax commissioner.
“And she said, ‘Why?’” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Well, you are going to be getting out of here in the middle of 2014 and I need to know how to do it.
“And she said, ‘What are you talking about?’”
Johnson said he reminded her of their agreement.
“She said, ‘What do you mean, agreement?’” Johnson said. “And I said, ‘The two years and one day that you are going to retire.’
“And she said, ‘I never said that.’”
Johnson said he was floored. For the past two years, he had continued to work under the impression that she intended to retire in 2014.
Then, Johnson said Allen turned towards him and asked him directly, “Are you running in 2016?”
He said he answered truthfully, “Yeah. I am.”
“And she said, ‘I’m running in 2016. Are you still running in 2016?’” Johnson said. “And I looked at her and said, ‘Yeah. I am.’
“From that day forward, she wanted me out.”
While the Metro Spirit made several attempts to contact Allen regarding Johnson’s allegations against her, she did not return any of the newspaper’s calls.
However, Johnson has a recording of one particular conversation with Allen that sheds a whole new light on how the tax commissioner was treating him as her employee.
Following their conversation about the 2016 election, Johnson said Allen stripped him of all his authority and responsibilities in the office.
“She began putting me through a lot of abuse. She started giving me these menial tasks to do,” Johnson said, adding that he was frequently told to dump the trash, pick up food for the office and unload 28-pound boxes filled with the tag shipments. “I didn’t feel like I was above doing any of that, but I was like, ‘You are paying me almost $37 an hour to unload the truck?’ That doesn’t make walk-around sense to me.”
But Johnson, who was making $78,000 a year, said the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was a bizarre request Allen made to him in October, only days before he was terminated from his position.
“She told me to report to Kroger,” Johnson said, in all seriousness. “I asked her, ‘Mrs. Allen, are you crazy?’ And she said, ‘I might be.’ She said, ‘I want you to report to Kroger. I want you to wear your work clothes and walk around the store for eight hours.’”
Johnson could not believe his ears. But he said he felt like he didn’t have any other choice but to follow his boss’ directions.
“Well, I had worked at Kroger on Columbia Road for about five years when I was in college and I decided, ‘Well, I will go there because maybe some people will know me and I won’t go to jail for just walking around the store for eight years,” he said.
After his “shift” that day at Kroger, Johnson went out to his truck in the Kroger parking lot and decided to record a telephone call to Allen at her office.
The recording, which Johnson provided to the Metro Spirit and can be heard on the newspaper’s website, metrospirit.com, clearly has a call being placed to the tax commissioner’s office. Johnson is then transferred to Allen’s direct line.
The following is a transcript of the conversation:
Johnson: “Hi, Mrs. Allen. This is Dwight.”
Johnson: “I did as you asked me or directed me on Friday to report to Kroger on Monday. And I just need to know where you would like me to report tomorrow.”
Allen: “Are you over there now?… Are you at Kroger now?”
Johnson: “I just need to know where to report to tomorrow.”
Allen (her voice raised): “Are you at Kroger, now?!?”
Johnson: “Uh, does that have anything to do with tomorrow?”
Allen: “Yes, Ma’am, it does.” (It appears that Allen called Johnson, “Ma’am.”)
Johnson: “What does it have to do with tomorrow?”
Allen: “Where are you now?”
Johnson: “I need to know where to be tomorrow.”
Allen: “Dwight, your assignment was to be at Kroger for eight hours today. Are you at Kroger now?”
Johnson: “Eight hours were put in. Yes, Ma’am.”
Allen: “I beg your pardon?”
Johnson: “Yes, Ma’am. The eight hours were put in. I just need to know where I need to take my next eight hours tomorrow.”
Allen: “The eight hours were put in? And what time did you report to Kroger?”
Johnson: “I could give you the exacts, but I don’t have them right offhand.”
Allen: “Well, I don’t know why. It was just maybe a few hours ago. Are you at Kroger now?”
Johnson: “Does that have anything to do with anything?”
Allen: “Dwight, you were assigned eight hours at Kroger.”
Johnson: “Yes, Ma’am.”
Johnson: “That’s exactly what I did.”
Both Johnson and Allen begin talking at the same time and Allen clearly gets frustrated and announces she is headed to Kroger.
Allen: “Okay. I’m coming over. Bye.”
Johnson (who assumes Allen is headed to the Kroger in Evans, tries to tell her that he is at the Kroger on Columbia Road): “I’m not at that Kroger.”
The call abruptly ends there
Later that evening, Johnson said Allen called him and told him that he was not allowed in the tax commissioner’s office ever again and that he was to report to Kroger instead.
“I was planning on going to Kroger on Wednesday and I get another call on Tuesday night and she says, ‘Just come to work at 5:30 p.m. on Friday with your work shirts and anything else you have that this county owns,’” Johnson said. “And I pretty much knew what that meant at that time.”
Johnson said he was preparing to say goodbye to the job he had loved for 15 years when he received another call around 2:30 p.m. on that Friday, October 18.
“I get a call from Lt. Andy Shedd from the sheriff’s office,” Johnson said. “He was at my house and he told me, ‘I’m here with Mrs. Allen and she wants her shirts and her keys.’”
Again, Johnson could not believe what was happening. At that moment, he was meeting with his future employer discussing his work schedule.
Johnson told Shedd he could be at his house in about 20 minutes.
“When I got home, Andy (Shedd) and Mrs. Allen were standing there outside my house,” he said. “My dad also was there. And I told Mrs. Allen that she was not allowed in my house.”
He walked Shedd into his home and provided him with the county’s shirts and the keys to the office.
“When I walked outside, Mrs. Allen had a resignation letter and a termination form,” Johnson said. “And she said, ‘I want you to resign.’”
Johnson said he refused to resign.
“I said, ‘Mrs. Allen, I’m not going to resign. There is no reason for me to resign. I haven’t done anything,’” Johnson said. “She said, “I want you to resign or I’m firing you for the $55.’”
The termination form stated that Johnson was being fired because he was responsible for a missing bank bag that allegedly contained $55 that never made it the Evans government center from the Appling office in July.
“It said that I misappropriated $55 in a bank bag and had coerced an employee to lie for me,” Johnson said. “It also said that I was belligerent to her or disrespectful to her.
Which, none of that is true.”
When Johnson learned that Allen was trying to hold him responsible for the missing $55, he approached the county administrator about reviewing a videotape of the discussion he had with Allen in the county’s “privacy room” about the bank bag.
The county’s privacy room allows for an audio and videotape to be taken of a conversation.
But when they pulled the video regarding the incident, there was no recording of Allen and Johnson’s conversation.
“All they had was ambient sound, basically white noise,” Johnson said. “They have the video, but no audio of our conversation.”
Johnson was ultimately fired by Allen on October 18.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI are currently investigating allegations that Allen personally profited from contracts to collect taxes for the cities of Harlem and Grovetown. Both agencies are trying to determine if these contracts broke the law.
While working for Allen, Johnson said he did see several of the checks issued to Allen from Grovetown and Harlem.
At first, these checks were allegedly placed in the mailbox of a person from the tax commissioner’s accounting division to handle, Johnson said. But when that employee began asking questions about which county fund these checks should be deposited in, Johnson said Allen directed all of those checks to be delivered to Johnson’s mailbox instead.
“This is what threw up a red flag for me,” Johnson said. “After that employee began asking questions, she told me, ‘From now on, I’m going to move this to your mailbox and when you get these checks, just put them on my desk, but don’t open them.’”
When the checks arrived, Johnson immediately knew they were from the other municipalities for Allen.
“She loves writing in green ink and there was always the word, ‘confidential,’ written in green on the envelopes,” Johnson said. “So, she would send the municipalities envelopes for them the mail her the checks back. I don’t know the frequency of the checks. I just know every once in a while I would see that ‘confidential’ envelop and I would stick it on her desk and she would never say a word about it.”
Despite everything that Allen has put him through the past several years, Johnson still doesn’t want to see the tax commissioner in trouble with the law.
“Being with someone as close as I was to her for 15 years, I know it sounds crazy, but I still don’t want anything bad to happen to her,” Johnson said. “And sometimes I find myself missing her. I loved that woman. I really did. She was like my second mom. Right now, I feel like I’m going through a divorce.”
But Johnson also understands that he has reputation to protect and he wants to clear his name of any wrongdoings.
“I didn’t have any ties with anything that was going on illegally,” Johnson said. “The accusations she has thrown out there against me are not true, so I’m fighting for my reputation. I don’t want my name to be tarnished. I’ve worked too hard and I’m proud of the work I’ve done.”