Columbia County Administrator Scott Johnson is defending his move to start a side business in partnership with two county deputy adminstrators, saying that he has done nothing wrong in answer to former longtime county EMA director Pam Tucker’s accusations that he is not being transparent and has violated the public’s trust.
Tucker, a current candidate for the board of commission chairman’s position, said Johnson failed to disclose the business venture with the public. She recently posted the venture’s business certification with the Georgia Secretary of State office on Facebook.
Johnson confirmed in an interview last week that Exceeding Excellence Consulting, LLC, was certified last year, in partnership with Matt Schlachter and Glenn Kennedy, whom Johnson directly supervises, because he believed his future as administrator was uncertain.
Johnson said he and his deputy administrators will not pursue the business, but might later, because it is a service that is needed. He said the idea behind the business was to provide expertise to smaller counties that would help their operations.
“I get calls a lot from other counties in Georgia, and really around the Southeast, asking how does Columbia County do it so well? How can we do it like you do it, what is it we can do?” Johnson said. “I can only help those people so much.”
Johnson said the business does not have a bank account, nor made any money.
“It was not created on county time or with county equipment,” he said. “It was not discussed on county time. It is 100 percent something I did after hours to try to secure my future, if there was something I needed to do beyond this.
“We created this LLC during a time where I had been falsely accused of things, and really my faith in local government at that time was being tested tremendously and I needed to kind of figure out what I wanted to do in the future.”
In her resignation letter last year, Tucker alleged Johnson created a hostile work environment. Rusty Welsh, Tucker’s assistant at the time, who resigned a week prior, pointed the finger at her. The county’s investigation, finalized in April 2017, found no wrongdoing against Tucker or Johnson.
Johnson said he has no issue with confronting public scrutiny if he has done something wrong, but said the events that transpired after the investigation initially left him questioning whether he should remain in local government.
“I knew I would live in a fishbowl, that everything that I did people would be able to walk all the way around and watch everything that I did,” Johnson said. “But it seems like I got put in a test tube. I was being attacked from every single angle. It just made me question whether or not I kind of wanted to put up with that. I was accused, tried, convicted and hung in the court of public opinion before I ever got to tell my side of the story.”
Now, Tucker questions the timeline of events that led to when Johnson filed to have the business certified.
“It was in May that they sent the request to get the license from the Secretary of State to start up this government consultant business. And that makes it more than a year and a half before a new person would even take office and clearly the current commissioners were fully on his side,” Tucker said. “So it seems to me that the intention was to have a side business and on top of that, the county outside employment policy clearly states that no employee can have outside employment without explicit written authorization from their supervisor, and it is my understanding that the commissioners were not even aware of this business that they started.”
Current Board of Commissioners Chairman Ron Cross said he was aware of the business, however.
“We talked about it and I talk with a lot of employees about their potential and what might happen down the road and what they might like to do and do they have any other plans,” Cross said. “In any business or any organization that’s kind of fluid, you never know what somebody is working on.”
Johnson said it was never his intention to have a second business while employed as county administrator.
“This was absolutely for the future and planning for the future,” Johnson said of the business.
Columbia County policy allows its employees to engage in a second business, according to Johnson, who said they have hundreds of employees who participate in a side business.
“We have 1,200 employees, and I would say hundreds of employees do outside employment,” Johnson said. “And those are approved on an annual basis. We’ve got a lot of people doing that.”
Tucker also said she has concerns whether the business was used to secure four-year employment contracts for Johnson, Schlachter and Kennedy.
Last month, commissioners unanimously approved a four-year contract with a $4,800 increase for Johnson for a total salary of $164,800 as county administrator. Schlachter and Kennedy also received four-year contracts with increases of more than $3,700 each, for yearly salaries of $127,850.14 as deputy administrators. All other department heads were awarded standard two-year contracts.
“Nobody needs to be tied to a four-year employment contract,” Tucker said. “Two years is plenty. It worked well the entire 18 years I worked there.”
Johnson said he was never made aware a 4-year contract was on the table until it was presented by the board of commissioners.
“I neither asked for nor did I know I was getting one,” Johnson said about the contracts. “I was asked to leave the room when they discussed contracts and when I came back in they announced what my contract would be, and was I OK with that, and obviously I accepted it. I never leveraged anything against anybody. Had I done that, I probably would have been out of a job, you just don’t do those sort of things. I would never do that.”
Johnson said after the investigation he joined Schlachter and Kennedy in the partnership and applied for certification as a business.
“Was I looking at other businesses? I think really I had to,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen as a result of that. I knew I didn’t do anything wrong, I just had to make sure that I secured my future.”
Schlachter and Kennedy declined to comment on their roles in forming Exceeding Excellence Consulting, LLC.
The website for Exceeding Excellence Consulting, LLC remains active.
“The reason I didn’t take it down was that I saw maybe one day, I may hire somebody else to go run that LLC, because I still think there is a need for it, but certainly I don’t have the time to be involved in that venture at this point in my career,” Johnson said. “Will it be a retirement thing for me? Maybe so. It depends on when I retire. But I have signed a four-year contract with Columbia County and I intend to stay those four years.”
Johnson said ultimately he feels Tucker’s claims are “nothing more than a personal vendetta.”
“It appears she will stop at nothing to discredit me,” Johnson said.