County maintenance workers involved in commissioner dispute keep jobs in wake of investigation

Mitch Prentice
Lake Sun Leader
Camden County Courthouse.

The pair of maintenance workers involved in a verbal dispute with Camden County First District Commissioner James Gohagan will not be fired, following a commission decision in closed session Monday.

An HR investigation into the dispute determined that fault was found on both sides of the argument. The maintenance workers involved, Melvin Miller and Dean Duran, were recorded making verbal threats of violence towards Gohagan, as well as blocking him from entering his office. However, the investigation concluded that Gohagan was also at fault as he antagonized the maintenance workers by allowing residents to enter the commissioner's building, take photos and mock the state of the building on social media. 

The pair will receive five days off of work with no pay as a result. This comes after over three months of placing the workers on paid administrative leave, resulting in over $18,000 being paid by the county.

According to audio provided by Gohagan of a conversation held between himself and a third-party independent investigator, the investigator stated that the outcome of the investigation may have changed if the maintenance workers were the only two involved. She says that there were others involved in the incident that "failed to deescalate" the situation.

The county commission provided a statement on the situation, explaining the process involved. 

They state that the firm of Jackson Lewis P.C., an independent professional firm specializing in Human Resources investigations, were contracted by Camden County through the sealed bid process. The firm collected evidence and interviewed everyone involved.

The commission says that the situation was "triggered by social media posts" by a small group of individuals for political purposes. 

"The truth is, no one was surrounded by ten maintenance employees (there are only five maintenance employees and only two were involved in the argument), no one was ever being 'held hostage,' there was no physical assault, there was no conspiracy, and no crimes were committed. It was merely a disagreement," the statement said.

They went on to explain that, in a closed session, Jackson-Lewis discussed the recommendation of a 5-day suspension without pay for the two employees and conflict resolution training for the members of the commission. They went on to say that Gohgan revealed he has already spoken with Jackson-Lewis beforehand and refused to undergo this training. The statement says that Gohgan left the meeting, breaking a door in the process, cursing and was not present for any vote. 

The statement continues, saying he made a motion to accept the recommendations and Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty seconded. A second motion was made to authorize HR to set up commission training as recommended, with Hasty again seconding. As previously stated, Gohgan was not present for either vote. 

They closed the statement, statingg that the investigation team was led by experts in their field and had access to all facts of the situation. The employees involved are now aware of the results and are reviewing their legal options. 

"We are hoping this matter can now be put behind us and we can move forward serving the citizens of Camden County in a positive manner," the statement said.

Gohagan provided a comment on the investigation as well, stating that constitutional rights are endowed by the creator, and violating those is egregious. He says he does not agree with the decision made.