The next move for Camden County government is unclear after a 15-page private investigative report with eight exhibits failed to find a legally-actionable hostile work environment and insufficient evidence of any criminal misconduct. The report lambasted County Clerk Rowland Todd and some members of his staff for alleged “extremely unprofessional behavior,” but then concluded that the findings of the report “may not necessarily support a conclusion that he failed to perform the duties required of county clerk.”
The next move for Camden County government is unclear after a 15-page private investigative report with eight exhibits failed to find a legally-actionable hostile work environment and insufficient evidence of any criminal misconduct. The report lambasted County Clerk Rowland Todd and some members of his staff for alleged “extremely unprofessional behavior,” but then concluded that the findings of the report “may not necessarily support a conclusion that he failed to perform the duties required of county clerk.” It is also unclear what disciplinary action, if any, would or could be taken against some of the clerk’s office employees who are named in the report.
Employees accused in the investigative report will go unnamed here, as their legal rights to privacy and their ability to contest the findings of the investigation is unclear. It should be noted that a limited number of county officials and employees were interviewed. These people are identified by Exhibit 4, but the report does not connect witness statements to names.
It is unclear whether Camden County Prosecutor Michael Gilley intends to pursue any of the possible charges mentioned in the report - removal from office, second degree trespassing, stealing and sunshine law/privacy law violations - given admitted lack of sufficient evidence. Gilley could not be reached by the Lake Sun on Monday.
The report was released on March 17, late in the afternoon to selected media outlets prior to being shared with Camden County Clerk Rowland Todd.
Todd declined to comment when contacted by the Lake Sun, explaining that neither he nor his attorney had seen the report.
Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty was in charge of distributing the report. However, when contacted by the Lake Sun the evening the report was released, the call was disconnected after the reporter identified who they were. Hasty did not return the call nor did he make any attempt to get back in touch with the reporter. Attempts by the Lake Sun to reach him by phone a second time were unsuccessful.
Associate Commission Don Williams responded by email saying, “I haven't had a chance to read the report yet. But I already know what the truth is, so if it is factual, it's not going to be news to me.” Williams later responded saying, “in the interests of open government, the entire commission decided ahead of time to immediately release the report the instant we received it and to release it in its entirety - before we even read it ourselves. The presiding commissioner was in charge of releasing it. He followed our collective decision and released it immediately and in its entirety.”
Associate Commissioner Bev Thomas could not be reached for comment.
According to the investigative report completed by Matthew T. Schelp, Esq. and Mark C. Milton, Esq. of Husch Blackwell (HB) for an as-yet unknown cost, the investigation was sparked by “reignited” tension after the clerk’s office fulfilled a Jan. 21, 2017 Lake Sun sunshine law request for former human resource director Brianna Christensen’s payroll records. In her resignation letter as a full-time employee from Oct. 11, 2016, Christensen cited a hostile work environment that was allegedly created by Todd and members of his staff along with former commissioner Cliff Luber.
While the commission was concerned that the clerk’s office had violated Christensen’s privacy with the release of those records, the report concludes that the information released was within the law.
Two years prior, the county commission had removed HR from the clerk’s office and made it a separate department though the clerk’s office retained payroll duties.
According to a witness in the investigative report, members of Todd’s staff gave him a hard time about allowing the loss of HR duties. Other witnesses reported that Christensen had begun highlighting practices that she believed were HIPAA and other privacy law violations, including a rolodex of personnel files in the clerk’s office with sensitive information that should have been securely stored and accessible only by authorized individuals.
Unnamed witnesses reported behavior characterized as bullying over disputes regarding the handling of HR issues that included screaming and yelling matches.
Despite her resignation for a hostile work environment and her full-time employment with a private company, Christensen was still working part-time for the county until a full-time replacement could be found. Working outside normal business hours, her hours had incurred questions to the Lake Sun from multiple county sources - not including Todd - about whether she was working the hours being turned in due to various HR-related issues, including but not limited to the retirement fund.
While the commission alleges and the report concludes Todd and a staff member took older payroll records as “sabotage” of Christensen, through surveillance the report also provides a timeline of events that make circumstances unclear.
While surveillance footage shows Todd taking the records on Jan. 24, 2017, the report states the HR department didn’t know the records were missing until Feb. 7 when they needed the book for retirement benefit functions. The new full-time HR employee was looking for the records to accomplish this process. With records not there, Christensen told the employee to try the clerk’s office given past problems between the two departments. Approaching Todd that same day, Feb. 7, the employee asked an employee with the clerk’s office for the records. The clerk’s employee said she would ask Todd, who was not present, and on the same day, within hours, the book was returned to HR.
If sabotage was intended, it appears to have failed when the clerk’s office openly admitted to having the book and provided it upon request. It should also be noted that HR was apparently not working on the retirement fund functions until Feb. 7 so the records being out of the office caused no delay as they were provided within hours of it being realized they were not in HR.
It is also unclear who has the right to keep the payroll records, given the divided responsibilities.
While the HB report goes to extensive work to prove Todd took the files as sabotage and hid them without using them - through multiple security surveillance video where the report interprets Todd’s behavior as “nervous” as well as witness statements of those who saw him go inside - Todd has never disputed that he took the records, but has asserted they are his records. He has also stated that he had permission to get the records from Associate Commissioner Bev Thomas who, in the investigative report, said she did not give permission. She had forwarded his requests to Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty who refused access.
The HB report also states that one of the clerk’s office employees claimed to have taken the records to help complete the retirement fund function in question, but there is no record of this employee turning in any of these reports to the retirement fund administrators or of the employee talking to the other impacted employees about their retirement fund issues.
Christensen had had the old records for convenience sake when performing certain HR functions, such as retirement benefit calculations, for an unknown time.
Rumors circulating around the courthouse at about the same time regarding retirement benefits possibly being dropped because of HR not submitting the needed reports by deadline were alleged to be part of Todd’s attempted sabotage, according to the investigative report.
A Feb. 6 email from the retirement fund administrator - Exhibit 5 of the HB report - states, “In order for your employees participating in the 457 Plan to receive the full benefit of the CERF [the fund] match, all 2016 salaries and contributions (and any corrections to salaries previously reported) must be processed by CERF no later than February 28, 2017. As a result, CERF must receive all information in its office no later than February 15, 2017 in an effort to address any questions related to the information submitted prior to the February 28th deadline.”
The email is addressed to four county employees, including Todd, within HR and the clerk’s office. The report does not provide any information on whether the letter itself was misconstrued or misunderstood either with the original employees included on the email or by employees somewhere down the line. The report merely states as fact that Todd spread the rumor.
On Feb. 21, 2017, Todd emailed a letter of concern to Camden County commissioners alleging waste by creating the separate HR department, but it did not say the county would be dropped only that untimely payment to the retirement fund resulted in untimely investment and loss to county employees, even if there is not a cancellation as was a concern. The Lake Sun’s Feb. 23 story, “Camden County Clerk calls out Commission related to HR,” about the letter is Exhibit 3 of the report. The story is mainly about the costs of having a separate HR department, which Todd says he calculated and which the investigative report calls “made up.”
On Feb. 22, two retirement fund administrators emailed the county commission assuring them the county was not in danger of being dropped.
Since the announcement of the investigation into the clerk’s office, Todd has sued the county commission for violating his first amendment rights as a watchdog of government waste. He is accusing the county commission, and in particular Commissioner Hasty, of retaliation for his Feb. 21 letter on wasted taxpayer money.
The county commission has maintained that the separate HR department is more money but worth it, to help the county implement best practices and avoid lawsuits.