Rift between Camden County commissioners continues to grow

Joyce Miller, Mitch Prentice
newsroom@lakesunonline.com
Camden County Courthouse.

The divide between Camden County Commissioners appears to be growing more intense over social media posts and ongoing conflicts during meetings.

Two of the three members of the Camden County Commission say they are “in the midst of an ongoing and fact-free political smear campaign” on social media. They point to the third member of the commission as being the instigator.  

Presiding Commissioner Greg Hasty and Associate Commissioner Don Williams released a statement saying the “commission has been operating in an atmosphere punctuated by ongoing false information and recrimination” being waged on social media since Jan.1, when newly elected Associate Commissioner James Gohagan took office. 

The statement was released just days after a protest calling for Hasty and Williams to resign from office was held in front of the Camden County Courthouse. The protest was organized by Camden County resident Neal Gist. The protest drew several dozen people carrying signs slamming the two commissioners. 

The statement continues by saying they (Hasty and Williams) have agreed to and voted to pass all resolutions introduced by Gohagan to this point.  While Gohagan has repeatedly posted insulting and denigrating posts regarding his fellow commissioners and county employees, as well as making negative comments about them in the traditional media, Commissioners Hasty and Williams have refused to respond in kind.  They have not, and will not, engage in this public bickering.  They will continue to try to ignore the negative, divisive smear campaign and to do the jobs for which they were elected.  They will continue to work for the betterment of Camden County. 

“There is a difference between legitimate criticism based on fact and constant vitriol based on personal animosity and incorrect information. We want the public to rest assured that Commissioners Greg Hasty and Don Williams are doing their jobs, the county is operating effectively and it will continue to do so. We will make an effort to communicate facts to the public in the midst of an ongoing and fact-free political smear campaign on Facebook,” the statement read. 

The outcome of an investigation into a dispute between two county maintenance workers and Gohagan appears to be at the center of the controversy. Much of the statement mentions an incident that took place in January when two maintenance workers confronted Gohagan in the commission’s offices after rifling through his desk. The confrontation stemmed from posts made on social media. Tempers flared and the Camden County Sheriff’s Department was called in to resolve the argument.  

The employees were placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by a firm hired by the county commission. Based on the outcome of the investigation that said there was wrongdoing on both sides, and cited there were others involved in the incident who failed to deescalate the situation. Hasty and Williams voted to place the two employees on a five-day suspension and then allow them to return to work. 

The two commissioners said the recommendation of the suspension and return to work was suggested by the investigator during a closed session of the county commission. The recommendations also included conflict resolution training for the commission as well as the maintenance workers, Included in the recommendations was a suggestion for training about the county employee handbook and leadership training for Gohagan. 

Prior to the closed session, the three commissioners had allegedly agreed to follow the recommendations of the investigation. 

The employees had continued to be paid from January until the decision in April, costing the county in the neighborhood $18,000 in wages in addition to the cost of hiring an outside law firm to investigate the incident. 

It has been previously reported that Gohagan left the meeting and was not present for any vote. Referring to the outcome of the investigation, the statement said  “Mr. Gohagan has made it clear that he is not happy with the results of the independent HR investigation that he originally demanded.  Further, despite the fact that the entire commission originally committed to accepting whatever the outcome of the investigation might be, Mr. Gohagan is now refusing to accept their findings and is expressing his dissatisfaction on social and traditional media.”

On Mon., May 3, the commission held another closed session to discuss the final resolution of the matter.  

According to the information released in the statement, "Mr. Gohagan at first refused to attend the meeting but was ultimately convinced to attend by the county attorney and the county human resources department.  One maintenance employee was in attendance but the other was unable to attend due to health concerns.  About five minutes into the meeting, as the employee apologized to Mr. Gohagan and expressed several statements that he wanted on the record, Mr. Gohagan again became angry and again stormed out of yet another meeting.”

Hasty and Williams did vote to move forward with the conflict resolution training for commissioners and make it available to all department heads. The commission also voted to require maintenance workers to undergo conflict resolution. 

Hasty and Williams contend they have repeatedly communicated their willingness to work with Gohagan and to resolve all differences for the good of the county. 

Gohagan was given a chance to respond to all of these statements and provided the following context to his side of the situation. 

Gohagan says that he never complied with outright following any ruling made by the investigation. When the maintenance worker ruling was made, he says he was brought into the session without any prior knowledge that the workers would be there as well. He says that they "tore into him" and continually told him why this situation was his own fault. As to the mentioning by Hasty and Williams regarding his exit from the meeting, where they have claimed he used foul language and broke a door, Gohagan had this to say:

"Let’s talk about gravel gate or the misuse of county funds if we want to talk about something costing the county money."

Gohagan says he would like to hear Hasty and Williams admit that they never aided in deescalating the situation with the maintenance workers. 

In the more recent May 3 meeting following the ruling, Gohagan says the maintenance workers never apologized to him, as Hasty and Williams claimed, and in fact acted similarly to their behavior in the first meeting. Gahagan again admits that he left the meeting early, as he says that Hasty and Williams use these closed session meetings to harass him without any public support. 

"They’ve made it the most hostile work environment I’ve ever seen in my life," Gohagan said. 

Gohagan says he takes issue with the other commissioners labeling this situation as being completed with a highway patrol investigation still pending. He says the same could be said about gravel gate. To Gohagan, this fight is far from over.

"I know that their feelings are hurt by the protest, but they are more interested in getting me out of office than working for the citizens of Camden County," Gohagan said.