Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson said he was blindsided by claims he created a hostile work environment by former Emergency Services Division director Pam Tucker, after nine years of working together.
Tucker and Johnson were both accused of creating hostile work environments. The first allegations came from Tucker’s deputy director, Rusty Welsh, against her in January, followed later that month by allegations from Tucker against Johnson.
Results of both individual investigations, released at a news conference by county officials Wednesday, stated there was no evidence of a hostile work environment.
In an interview with The Augusta Chronicle on Thursday, Johnson said he still finds it hard to believe what has happened, adding that he thinks Tuckerwas also blindsided by Welsh’s accusations.
“I was completely shocked, and I was completely caught off guard,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if it was just a deflection. I don’t know, but I can tell you thi: In my nine years that I have been here in Columbia County as the county administrator, as the assistant administrator, not one time in that entire nine years had Pam Tucker ever told me that I was hostile, that she was upset with me. That I did anything wrong.
“Now, did I talk to her? Did I coach her during that time? Absolutely, And I did that to every other employee.”
Since the investigations were released, county officials have backed Johnson and stated their disappointment with the way Tucker resigned, first announcing it on social media before she turned in her resignation letter Jan. 31. Her last day on the job was March 1.
Dozens of interviews with county employees were conducted by the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, whom the Columbia County Commission hired to undertake the investigation into the allegations of hostile work environment.
Johnson did admit to one allegation in the investigation on Tucker’s charges against him – that he lost his temper three years ago and used profanity while talking to an employee.
He said a conversation with a manager at a party he threw for his wife at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion in 2014 became heated. That piece of “evidence,” however, was an effort to “dig up dirt” on him, he said.
“It’s the only incident out of the entire investigation that came back that anybody can claim that I was ever hostile with them,” Johnson said. “I didn’t cuss at the employee, I used curse words while talking to the employee, and by the way, I have since apologized to that employee, we have since worked together.”
Also included in the investigation are recordings Johnson made of two meetings before Tucker resigned:on Jan. 11 between him and Tucker and on Jan. 19 among him, Tucker and commission Chairman Ron Cross.
Johnson said Tucker had earlier texted him her intentions to resign.
“I felt very strongly that I needed to do that because I was being hit out of left field with a resignation request from Pam,” Johnson said of his decision to record, of which Tucker was unaware. “And I was really surprised. … And because of that, because it was so awkward, I just felt like I needed to make sure I have the facts straight. I needed to make sure what was going to be said later was really said.”
Johnson said he felt he had to protect himself because of Tucker’s popularity with the news media and the public.
“Because what I feared would happen, did,” said Johnson, who said at the news conference Wednesday that he has received death threats since Tucker’s resignation. “The public perception was that Pam is a great person. And she is. She was a great EMA director. We still hate that she’s gone. People sided with her because of her popularity. Had I not had that tape, I think things would have been different.”
Tucker says in the report that she has recordings of events that prove Johnson created a hostile work environment but that she refused to give them to the investigator.
Johnson said that he has considered a lawsuit to clear his name because he believes Tucker’s intention was to ruin him professionally since all of her claims were against his duties as county administrator.
“I think there is actual malice here,” he said. “I think she intended to harm me. I don’t want any money from her. I just want my name clear.”
Tucker did not reply to requests for an interview after the investigation results were released.
“Once I’m provided a copy of the report, my plan is to read it – and then move on,” said a post Tuesday on her Facebook page. “The people of Columbia County deserve the best that all public servants have to offer and getting caught up in drama is just not my priority.”