While there has been a lot of talk about the investigation by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office into claims of a “hostile work environment” brought by former EMA Director Pam Tucker against County Administrator Scott Johnson, it wasn’t just county employees complaining about Johnson’s actions.
During the sheriff’s investigation of the complaints against Johnson, a recording of a private citizen’s encounter with Johnson was also reviewed.
And while Johnson can try to claim that he wasn’t threatening this private individual, anyone who listens to the recording would likely disagree.
This individual, who shall remain anonymous because the recording was provided to the sheriff’s office only because he emailed each of the commissioners a copy of his conversation with Johnson, is a local banker.
Following Tucker’s abrupt resignation in late January, this private citizen posted some critical comments of Johnson’s action on social media.
Apparently, Johnson saw these comments and wasn’t happy at all.
Johnson decided to confront this individual and called him up.
At first, Johnson tries to calmly talk to this individual and find out why he was posting negative comments about him.
“I just want to chat with you for just a second,” Johnson says in the recorded phone call. “I thought of a hundred ways about how to do this or how to make this call or who to make it to or how I should do that, but I just wanted to let you know that I really considered us friends and I know we’ve worked together and you’ve been on our Civil Service Board and for some of the comments that you’ve made on social media without even talking to me, I just wanted you to know that it has really hurt my feelings.”
Awwww… poor Scott Johnson. His feelings got hurt.
“Out of thousands of comments, you are the only call that I’ve made and the only reason I’m making it is because I feel like we were to the point where you at least could have (talked to me), before you said some of the things that you said,” Johnson says on the recording.
This private individual then tries to explain why he was frustrated with Johnson’s actions.
“Scott, I had an hour long conversation with Barry Smith a few months ago,” the private individual states.
Smith is the former director of the Community and Leisure Services Division in Columbia County who also unexpectedly resigned in July 2015 after having problems Johnson’s leadership.
“How do you think that went?” the private individual asks Johnson.
“I don’t know,” Johnson replies. “That is between you and Barry Smith.”
But this private individual doesn’t let Johnson off the hook that easily.
“It didn’t go well,” he states. “He was forced out. He gave you a demand letter of a resignation with a severance demand and told you that you had two hours to do it. And you pulled it off. Now, why y’all wouldn’t do that for Pam Tucker, I don’t know why?”
Earlier this year, Smith told the Metro Spirit that he resigned from his job with the county because Johnson was being untruthful about the circumstances surrounding the hiring of three community events specialist positions.
However, when Smith resigned, he demanded the county provide him with a seven-month severance package and his remaining paid time off (PTO.)
Within a few hours after his resignation, Johnson agreed to Smith’s request for severance pay.
However, Johnson refused to provide Tucker with a severance package when she resigned on Jan 31.
But that wasn’t the only controversy that this private individual had discovered about Johnson.
“Then, I had a county employee tell me that you cussed her out over an issue,” the private individual tells Johnson over the phone.
“Who was that?” Johnson asks.
“I’m not going to tell you,” the individual replies.
“Why?” Johnson asks. “Tell me who it was.”
But the individual refuses to name the specific employee.
“I hope it comes up in the investigation,” the individual states.
By this time, Johnson is done being polite.
“I tell you what,” Johnson says, clearly angered by the entire conversation. “I handled it the wrong way. You and I are done. And our relationship with you and your bank are done as long as I’m county administrator. And I will make that known when all of this is done.”
So, the county administrator of Columbia County in this recorded phone call actually tells a local banker that the county is going to end any kind of relationship it has with his bank because of comments the banker made on social media.
That is totally unethical.
Johnson is basically threatening this banker and trying to hurt him professionally just because some of his posts on social media hurt Johnson’s feelings.
Hello? Calling all Columbia County residents. Do you really want a county administrator who behaves that recklessly?
It is one thing to call a banker up and ask him about the comments, but then to attack the bank and threaten to pull any of the county’s money out of that bank is wrong on so many levels.
But Johnson didn’t stop there.
“I’m going to tell you, at the end of this investigation, you are going to be embarrassed because a lot of things were said and done that are going to come out in the investigation, not by me, but by other people,” Johnson said. “I want the investigation.”
The banker then tells Johnson that he felt someone other than the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office should be conducting the investigation.
“It needs to be a third party,” the banker says.
Johnson insists that wasn’t his call.
“I didn’t ask for the investigation,” Johnson says. “I didn’t ask for it.”
However, the banker tells Johnson that he doesn’t believe that excuse.
“You have the ear of the chairman,” he says, referring to Columbia County Chairman Ron Cross. “Come on. You understand that a third party has to be involved in this.”
Johnson says he was completely “hands off” with the investigation.
“You were very involved in this,” the banker states. “What I hear from the county employees is that everyone is scared the sh** of you. And what did you tell me about the whistleblower line? ‘There is no f***ing way we are doing that.’ I mean, really? Those were your words. Why would you not allow that?”
Earlier this year, there was a discussion by members of the Columbia County Civil Service Commission about whether the county should create a whistleblower phone line that employees could anonymously voice their concerns about the county.
Johnson said he didn’t want a whistleblower line because he wanted the county employees to come to him instead.
“Well, Scott, you called every employee up from EMA to try to trash her,” the banker says, referring to Johnson’s internal investigation of former EMA Deputy Director Rusty Welsh’s complaints against Pam Tucker.
In Welsh’s resignation letter, he claimed Tucker was “controlling, manipulative, condescending, arrogant, disrespectful, hypocritical and juvenile” while serving as his boss.
Following Welsh’s resignation, Tucker alleges that Johnson attempted to coerce additional complaints about her from some of her other employees.
In the recorded phone conversation, Johnson asks the banker how he knows about the internal investigation he conducted.
“How many employees did I call up?” Johnson asks.
“I don’t know,” the banker replies. “How do you justify calling even one?”
Johnson insists on the recording that he had every right to talk to the other employees.
“I had a hostile work environment complaint,” Johnson replies.
“You sure do now,” the banker quips.
But Johnson continues to argue that he was just doing his job as an administrator.
“What does Policy 308.1 say, Mr. Civil Service Chairman?” Johnson sarcastically asks. “What does Policy 308.1 say?”
The banker brushes off Johnson’s remarks.
“You know what? It doesn’t matter, Scott, because every time we have a hearing, you change the rules,” he says.
That comment gave Johnson another opportunity for a veiled threat.
“Well, it won’t matter after this. You are right,” Johnson remarks.
“Why not?” the banker asks.
“It just won’t matter,” Johnson says.
Basically, it appears that Johnson is hinting that the banker will no longer have a seat on the Civil Service Commission.
“Look, I’m done talking to you,” Johnson bluntly states. “Our friendship is over. Our relationship is over. Continue your bashing. I am very disappointed.”
But the banker points out that Johnson really crossed the line during this phone conversation.
“Well, let me go ahead and tell you, you have threatened to remove (my) bank from the county business,” the banker states.
However, Johnson denies that he did any such thing.
“I didn’t threaten you with anything,” Johnson replies.
The banker disagrees.
“Oh, OK, well, you made a promise then. How about that?” the banker asks.
There is a brief pause and the banker then lets Johnson in on a little secret.
“And, OK, this conversation is being recorded,” the banker says. “So you do what you’ve got to do.”
At that point, the call immediately ends.
Johnson is gone, but his words didn’t vanish into thin air.
Whether Johnson wants to admit it or not, he threatened to take county business away from a local bank just because of comments made on social media.
That is not a county administrator acting in the best interests of the county.
That is simply a county administrator behaving badly.