Thursday night’s County Board of Commissioners promises to be a long night, capped off by a potentially explosive discussion of the working environment at the county’s 911 department. Commissioner Steve Brown has been on a crusade to bring the abuses to light for the public. As part of his agenda item, Brown is asking his fellow commissioners to commit to a full investigation by an independent party.
Complaints regarding a hostile work environment at the 911 center date back to at least February 2017 when 911 Director Bernard “Buster” Brown was involved in a verbal confrontation with a supervisor where he directed profanity at and intimidated the employee. Brown received a written reprimand. The employee, in a written statement, said, “I am fearful of coming into work when Buster is here. I fear that he will be violent or aggressive toward me in the future … I am in fear that he will act in retaliation of me even reporting this situation or simply because I had an opinion that varied from his.”
For most, and for some of the Board of Commissioners, the first they heard of problems at 911 was the December 14 BOC meeting when two former employees shared their frustrations during public comments.
Nicole Smith, who worked for Fayette County 911 for 17 years and was a shift supervisor for 15 years, spoke about what she called an appalling work environment, including personally being screamed at while answering an emergency call. Smith also said she had documentation of unfair discipline, hazing, inappropriate comments to female employees, and wrongful terminations.
Smith recounted a May 2017 meeting between all shift supervisors with human resources during which someone with the Employee Assistance Program said, “This is the worst case of hostile work environment I have ever seen,” according to Smith. Supervisors were asked to collect documentation, to which Smith said they faced a coordinated retaliation effort.
“I hope you take a closer look,” Smith said. “I don’t think you know fully what’s going on over there.”
Jordon Posey shared his concerns over staffing in particular, noting that during his tenure they would regularly only have four employees on shift on the floor, as opposed to the mandated five or six, adding that it was a struggle to get four at times, with administrative staff having to fill in. Posey said workers would also have to cover 15 fire radio channels at times.
“That’s a lot of channels to monitor,” he said. “It’s easy to make mistakes. It’s easy to miss radio traffic.”
In addressing their comments, Rapson offered to share the results of what he called “a pretty detailed investigation” with the commissioners.
An investigation of the work environment took place in June 2017.
As part of the investigation, statements from several employees were sent to Human Resources Director Lewis Patterson detailing their complaints and are available in the meeting packet posted to the county’s website. The statement of Assistant Director Amber Smith details the complaints of two trainees (cadets) in particular who felt set up to fail or bullied by their supervisors, along with instances of inflammatory statements, including weight-related jokes and anti-white and anti-cop sentiments.
The trainees detailed supervisors telling them “snitches get stitches” in relation to violating policy or complaining about the administrative staff. One of the trainees even expressed fear they would be physically harmed because they had complained about the supervisors earlier in the year, as well as one of the supervisors asking where they lived.
The supervisors were also said to have plotted falsifying complaints against Director Brown in retaliation for being disciplined previously.
According to a former employee who supplied a copy of one such “report,” another supervisor would give out a “Butthurt Report” when staff expressed concerns. That same supervisor reportedly also called a male trainee a vulgar name and bragged about facing no disciplinary action.
Said one of the trainees in their statement, “It has become such a hostile work environment that I am currently seeking other employment because I can no longer function under these conditions. I am scared of retaliation … physically, toward my family and for my job.”
The official investigation findings noted “a number of employees shared concerns about their work environment … they described an atmosphere that is plagued by low morale, negativity, and intimidation.”
Tensions among commissioners have risen with the agenda item looming. Commissioner Brown has been pulling files related to the investigation and supplying them to the media, along with including them in the agenda packet. Commissioner Charles Oddo suggested that, past a certain point, Brown be required to pay for the files prepared via open records.
Brown responded, in an email shared with Fayette Newspapers, “You are not the dictator of Fayette County. We have no such position on our board. Please stop trying to impose your will on others and obstructing my efforts to research documentation subject to the Georgia Open Records Act that you are attempting to suppress,” he said, continuing in part, “I understand why you want this situation covered up, it’s truly embarrassing. The voters elected me to be their eyes and ears, representing their best interests. I am the government and NOT a private citizen making an open records request and if you do not believe me go to the Elections Office and look at the election results for yourself.”
Rapson replied that charging a sitting commissioner for an open records request had never been done before and would require a change in direction from the commission.
The discussion promises to be an emotional one. On one popular Facebook community group, Steve Brown declared, “This could literally be the most interesting meeting in the history of the Fayette County Board of Commissioners.”