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Commission closes probe of misconduct allegations

McDuffie County's Finance Director - and the employees that accused him of misconduct - remain on the job as county commissioners declared their investigation complete.

Commissioners voted last Wednesday 3-2 to keep County Finance Director Jimmy Whitaker on board. However, some type of disciplinary action is forthcoming against Mr. Whitaker and County Manager Don Norton, County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton said.

"We do have some reprimands that will be handed out," he said. "At this point, that's all I'll say regarding that."

The commission's decision came after weeks of closed-door meetings to investigate claims against Mr. Whitaker made by Pam Workman, who serves as the assistant finance director. Two other finance department employees - accounts receivable clerk Shirley Williams and payroll clerk Diane Hardy - also filed verbal and written grievances against Mr. Whitaker. Grievances also were filed against McDuffie County Manager Don Norton by two of the three employees.

The probe looked into allegations of sexual misconduct, as well as a hostile work environment - both of which were alleged to have occurred over a period of time. The investigation was completed by Mr. Newton, Commission Vice Chairman Sammie Wilson, Sr., and county attorney Sammy Fowler.

Mr. Newton said last Wednesday that the internal investigation had revealed those particular allegations to be "unfounded."

But two other allegations were proven to have merit against Mr. Whitaker. One of them involved commissioners never being made aware of more than $3,800 in taxpayer money that was taken in a 2007 internet scam. However, Mr. Newton acknowledged that Mr. Whitaker produced a note documenting that he was notified of the missing money. At the time, Mr. Newton thought the situation was being handled, and heard nothing else about it until the accusations against Mr. Whitaker surfaced in October.

"The fact that taxpayer's money had been missing for a year and a half without commissioners knowing anything about it is unacceptable to me," Commissioner Fred Favors said.

The other issue regarding Mr. Whitaker centered on his having brought a shotgun to work two years ago. He reportedly displayed it after getting into an argument with Mr. Norton. At the time, Mr. Newton said Mr. Norton told him to get rid of the weapon and to never bring another weapon back onto government property.

Those allegations and others were reported to Rev. Favors back in October by Ms. Workman, Ms. Williams and Mrs. Hardy. Rev. Favors then notified Mr. Newton about the reported missing money and how it reportedly occurred. He also contacted Commissioner Wilson. Rev. Favors said the issues prompted him to request that an executive meeting be held with all commissioners and that they interview all parties connected to those allegations.

That closed-door meeting, held last month in the office of Mr. Newton, and lasted 3 1/2 hours.

Mr. Newton said the entire incident involving the finance department and allegations that followed began on Oct. 20 after Mr. Whitaker "lost his temper" after having his integrity called into question - "being called a liar."

During last week's meeting, following another executive session, a roll-call vote was sought by Mr. Wilson, seeking the termination of Mr. Whitaker. Mr. Wilson said he wanted the roll-call vote because he wanted everyone in the community to know how commissioners voted. He and Rev. Favors voted in favor of terminating Mr. Whitaker, while Darryl Wester and Bob Farr voted against such action. That left the tie-breaking vote in Mr. Newton's hands.

Now, officials will decide what punishment will be doled out in the wake of the accusations and investigation. Mr. Newton said Mr. Norton is in the process of recommending what sort of action is appropriate for Mr. Whitaker, while he is deciding such a recommendation of action against Mr. Norton.

Commissioners are expected to decide such at a future meeting. The three women will be given notes in their personnel files, because they did not follow the proper steps in reporting the allegations, Mr. Newton said.

And the issue may not be over then. Mr. Wilson said he believes there could be a lawsuit filed stemming from the alleged sexual harassment, even though those allegations were unfounded during the course of the commissioners' probe.

"Some of it, I don't believe happened," Mr. Wilson said.

Web posted on Thursday, December 11, 2008

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