In a special meeting Monday, the Jackson County Commissioners terminated county administrator Lyndon Bonner on a 3-2 vote effective immediately. The motion to terminate came from commissioner Jim Peacock with a second by commissioner Clint Pate. Eric Hill voted in favor of the motion with commissioners Chuck Lockey and Dr. Willie Spires voting against.
The meeting and subsequent dismissal stemmed from allegations of inappropriate comments made to a female employee at the county commission office. In a letter to L. Loman-Greene, Human Resources Director for Jackson County Board of County Commissioners, it says in part, “This Report of Investigation (“ROI”) relates to concerns initially raised by Assistant to County Administrator Kristie Cloud, in a written submission to the Board of County Commissioners on March 8, 2018, and other relevant allegations raised during interviews conducted during the investigation. Our office was requested by the Florida Association of Counties Trust (“FACT”) to investigate the concerns after FACT received contact from your office attaching Ms. Cloud’s March 9, 2018, letter, which memorialized her concerns (see attached “Exhibit A”). This office was engaged to properly interview necessary individuals and to set forth our findings and options the County has to address our findings. This ROI represents the culmination of this assignment. Six individuals, including Kristie Cloud, Lyndon Bonner, Steve Croxton, utilities manager, Whitney Clark, administrative support II, Judy Austin, purchasing agent, and Deborah Hynes, Library Director, were interviewed during the investigation.
Bonner initially read into the record a letter addressed to the board. In the letter he said he regretted the reasons for being in the meeting. He further stated he had been subjected to ridicule and felt his reputation had been damaged and requested administrative leave to respond to the allegations that had been made and referenced that the complainant had been given 19 days. Discussion was held about the number of days with Bonner responding that was the amount of time given the complainant and that is how he derived that number.
Commissioner Willie Spires inquired if there had been an official grievance filed to which Hill replied not to his knowledge was there an official one but there were letters in their boxes that he was advised of my email. County attorney Michelle Jordan said through conference call, “I recommended that FACT be notified.” Spires questioned who gave the authority to bring in FACT and another attorney. Hill clarified that he did not request FACT being brought in but that had only sent the information to the county attorney about the information they had received. Spires questioned Cloud about an earlier conversation he had with her and that he understood her to say she was not interested in filing a grievance. Cloud advised that she had said that she was not at that time. Spires stated that he did not hear her add ‘at that time’. Bonner stated he felt the employee (Cloud) was entitled to the right of confidentiality. He further stated he felt he was due equal opportunity to respond and that there have been some inconsistencies in the investigation and a breach of confidentiality and those things need to be cleared up. He was only evaluating what he was given, evaluated some documents and interviewed six people.
Commissioner Jim Peacock stated, “He (Bonner) has created a hostile work environment and that was one of the things you cannot do in a work place today. I think we have to be very careful and him just saying I’m sorry does not necessarily get us off the hook.” Peacock related that they had a responsibility to act on complaints which could potentially be a lawsuit, and concluded, “I don’t want to see Jackson County having to defend another lawsuit.”
Bonner countered that Peacock’s statement was an allegation and, “I completely disagree and deny that.”
Spires then offered, “I would like to move that a written reprimand from the chairperson requiring that he cease from conduct being made that was alleged that can be offensive to staff.” Commissioner Lockey seconded the motion with discussion.
Peacock inquired if the board had a signed contract with Mr. Bonner with Michele McDaniel responding that we did not. Spires asked why we did not with Bonner inquiring who said there was not a signed contract. It was clarified that we did not have one at that time and that at the previous meeting on March 13, Bonner was instructed to meet with Green and Chairman Hill to work out the details of the contract and get it signed.
Bonner said he was concerned about the ‘reprimand’ because that implied an assumption of guilt and he was concerned about that part of the motion. Dr. Spires withdrew his motion with Lockey withdrawing his second. Dr. Spires then made the motion, “I would like to move that a letter be written to Mr. Bonner from the chairperson explaining that the issue that his statements have caused some problems and ask that he refrain from such in the future, counseling and become more conscious of how statements can affect employees, thus we can be productive and move forward.” Motion was seconded by Lockey. Peacock asked Bonner if he had ever had any human resource hours or training with Bonner replying yes. Peacock asked how many hours and Bonner said he would have to go back and look. Peacock said, “I don’t know that a letter seeking counseling for someone who’s been around as long as he has is going to change anything is my only concern with that.”
The motion was then made by Peacock to terminate discussions on the contract and terminate Bonner with cause and that his termination be effective today with a second by Commissioner Pate. After the motion passed, 3-2 the board recessed for five minutes before returning to name an interim administrator.
Upon resuming Eric Hill suggested Wilanne Daniels with Chuck Lockey suggesting Pam Pichard who had served in that capacity prior to the hiring of Ernie Padgett. Spires suggested Mark Foreman, the jail administrator to fill the interim job.
A motion by Clint Pate to offer Wilanne Daniels, presently Community Development Director the Interim Administrator job at a salary of $80,000 passed 3-2.
In an interview Tuesday, Daniels said, “I feel excited for the opportunity to serve not only the citizens but the employees and the commissioners. I feel like I’ve invested 11 years in the county, 12 years in August and I have watched a lot happen and I feel excited to be a part of that transition.”