By Ryan Miner
Several Washington County employees have spoken with or written to A Miner Detail off the record since the premature firing of former County Administrator Greg Murray. The employees communicated with me on the condition of anonymity, out of fear of being targeted in an investigation by new County Administrator Rob Slocum.
Several County employees claim they are constantly under the threat of termination and have detailed several instances of alleged mismanagement and corruption occurring inside the offices of the county administration building.
Multiple County employees have expressed their extreme displeasure and incredulity with Washington County’s Director of Health and Human Services, Stephanie Stone. Employees say that Stone has given orders to County subordinates to stall or delay an investigation that would have occurred as a result of the sexual harassment allegations brought forth by Assistant County Administrator Sarah Lankford-Sprecher.
Several County employees have said they are privately urging Stone to immediately resign.
Sprecher initially spoke with Stone in a private meeting in which she provided details of Commissioner Leroy Myers allegedly sexually harassing her during one of the County’s trips to South Korea last year. According to Sprecher’s legal complaint, Stone apparently rebuffed her and may have attempted to persuade Sprecher to drop the complaint against Myers altogether, according to the legal document authored by Sprecher’s attorney.
Last week, multiple County employees who were copied on a June 20 email that was written by Washington County’s Deputy Director of Transit Stephanie Overcash reported to A Miner Detail that Overcash stated that “she is working in a hostile work environment.”
Overcash’s email apparently claimed that her supervisor brought her in for a meeting in front of a subordinate and proceeded to viciously reprimand her.
County officials who relayed the content of Overcash’s email to A Miner Detail wrote that Overcash’s reprimand was “totally improper” and that Overcash was “embarrassed and humiliated” by her supervisor’s decision to admonish her in front of other County employees.
On Wednesday, June 21, I submitted a public information request with Washington County’s Public Relations and Community Affairs Manager, James Jenkins, seeking a copy of Overcash’s email that details the context of her grievance.
Jenkins seemingly refused my Maryland public information request without any comment or detail. Offering no explanation for the County’s refusal, Jenkins wrote back to me in an email, “The County has no documents responsive to this request.”
In a phone call with Jenkins on Wednesday, I questioned the timing of the press release the County released on June 20.
WASHINGTON COUNTY MEDIA POLICY
Jenkins told me that the press release detailing the County’s request for media to contact the Department of Public Relations (see above) before contacting a County employee “has been the media policy ever since our office opened; it’s the same policy that the Board of Education has as well – that if the media wants to discuss a matter during work business hours, they have to first go through this department.”
Jenkins repeated multiple times that the “policy” is nothing new.
I specifically questioned the timing of the County’s press release, stating to Jenkins I considered the timing of said release to be “interesting.” Jenkins further stated that the current media “policy” “has been the policy” and that he occasionally sends out the policy to members of the media due to high media turnover.
I asked Jenkins where the policy is written and whether it can be found on the County’s website.
Jenkins said he would “get a copy of it” for me.
I asked Jenkins to please forward me whatever policy is written at his earliest convenience, and I followed up asking him if the Commissioners had previously voted on said media policy.
Jenkins said that “he couldn’t answer my question because it was before he started with the County” and “all he knows is that it’s the same policy that the Board of Ed has.”
Jenkins has yet to forward me the County’s media policy as of Sunday morning, June 25.
Jenkins went on to state that “there is no gag order” in place at the County and “there have been incidents that have occurred” in which the County has denied the media’s requests – unless it’s a legal matter or, rather, legal personnel.”
I asked Jenkins about Overcash’s email in which she apparently described working in a hostile work environment. Jenkins responded, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. This is the first I am hearing about this.”
I questioned Jenkins on the letter Commissioner Cline received from a Baltimore law firm that requested Cline cooperate in an investigation by turning over his electronic devices to be reviewed. Jenkins said he couldn’t comment and that I should contact the County’s attorney, John Martirano.
It was my understanding that I was first to contact the County’s Department of Public Relations and not the County employee if I had questions, according to the County’s June 20th’ press release. Jenkins responded, “well, yeah, but I suggest you contact John.”
However, Jenkins said that he prefers I begin with his department and that he could pass along information to Mr. Martirano. I asked to be transferred to Mr. Martirano, but Jenkins said Martirano wasn’t in his office at that time and if he transferred me to Martirano he would “probably hang up on me.”
I asked Jenkins if I should contact Martirano directly via email. Jenkins responded, “probably.”
Subsequent my phone call with Jenkins, I sent the following email to County Attorney John Martirano:
Good Afternoon, Mr. Martirano,
I contacted the County’s Public Relations department today and spoke with James Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins suggested that I contact you.
I have several questions regarding the letter sent to Commissioner Cline from attorney Thomas Dolina, specifically the request to examine Cline’s electronic devices.
Please contact me at your earliest convenience at (301) 991-4220.
I am writing a story that covers this topic on my political blog, AMinerDetail.com.
Martirano quickly responded to my email request, writing,
Thank you your email. However, I am unable to comment on any issues relating to this matter.
Very truly yours,
John M. Martirano
County Attorney for Washington County, Maryland
I followed up, responding Martirano’s email, writing,
There is a taxpayer-funded legal investigation occurring in Washington County, but you cannot comment? Pardon my ignorance; what is preventing you from commenting?
Martirano quickly responded to my second email, writing,
I do have any comment on this ongoing matter.
The County attorney is apparently unable to comment on the County’s legal policies.
More on the backlash from County employees
One County employee who works for Washington County’s Recreation and Fitness Department reported to A Miner Detail that they “haven’t received any sexual harassment training since 2008,” having attended their last session at the University of Maryland building in downtown Hagerstown when it first opened to the public.
Several County employees also reported to A Miner Detail that since Murray’s untimely departure (termination) as county administrator, the morale in County government has been at an all-time low.
One County employee reported to A Miner Detail that their supervisor is now requiring them to “keep a log where they go every day,” claiming that Rob Slocum is deteriorating the work culture inside County government and heavily micromanaging certain County departments.
Another County employee reported to A Miner Detail that Slocum is indirectly authorizing his subordinates to weed out any County employees who are not loyal to Slocum himself.
County employees say that are privately urging Slocum to halt the internal investigations into leaks.
According to sources privy to a recent closed-session commissioner meeting, a discussion was held among the commissioners and staff about hiring one of three law firms to conduct an internal investigation of County employees’ electronic devices.
According to the same sources, three county commissioners said they were in favor of the county administrator to proceed with the investigation, tacitly authorizing Slocum to hire a law firm and initiate an internal investigation.
However, sources claim that the commissioners never participated in an actual vote to allow Slocum to proceed with hiring a law firm.
Last week on June 20, Washington County Commissioner Jeff Cline held a press conference on the steps of the county administration building in downtown Hagerstown, in which he claimed that he is currently the target of an investigation after he filed an ethics complaint against fellow commissioners Leroy Myers and Wayne Keefer, as well as County Administrator Rob Slocum.
In a separate article, Herald-Mail Media reported:
A June 19 letter from attorney Thomas J. Dolina with Bodie, Attorneys at Law, and addressed to Cline said “the county administrator and the Office of Law” have asked Dolina to investigate “the source of various news stories that have been published recently in the Hagerstown Herald. One of those stories dealt with an alleged sexual harassment complaint made by the assistant county administrator.”
The letter said the law firm is trying to determine how, why, when and by whom information was disclosed. It asked Cline to provide times for a meeting and for an expert to view his devices, including cellphones and computers.
Of course, Cline is not obligated in any way to comply with the law firm’s request that he turn over his devices for examination. The law firm’s letter mailed to Cline does not constitute a legally binding document but rather a legal intimidation tactic that has no legal basis. Unless a judge issues a warrant to view the contents of Cline’s personal electronic devices, the County has no authority to view said devices.
Other sources have reported to me that Jeff Cline isn’t the only County employee to be targeted by Slocum’s investigation.
Sources claim that former County Administrator Greg Murray and County employee Katie Yoder received the same letter as Cline from attorney Thomas J. Dolina with Bodie, Attorneys at Law, requesting that their personal electronic devices be examined.
I reached out to Murray to confirm that he received the same letter as Cline. Murray did confirm that he received a letter from Thomas J. Dolina with Bodie, Attorneys at Law, requesting him to submit his electronics for review.
I spoke with one County employee on Thursday morning who told me that they “cannot believe how much has changed in three months since Slocum has been appointed Washington County’s administrator. Employees are being treated with disrespect and they are afraid for their jobs, and Slocum is warning us not to talk to anybody outside of the office.”
Another County employee wrote to A Miner Detail on Thursday evening:
“Instead of Rob Slocum hiring an attorney to investigate leaks, he should have hired a consulting firm to start finding out where County employees are weak in training.
All of this time, we should have had training scheduled – sexual harassment training – for our employees, but Slocum is too concerned about who is loyal and who isn’t.
But instead, Slocum hired an attorney to find out who is leaking information, only to find out that the County is stalling on a sexual harassment investigation. Isn’t that irony for you?
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