Tuesday, April 22, 2014

EDITORIAL >> No bullying in courthouse

A former deputy assessor in Lonoke County told our reporter Sarah Campbell a harrowing tale of bullying by her former boss, Assessor Jack McNally, who has a reputation of harassing employees and being absent from the job most of the time.

In a heartbreaking interview at The Leader on Saturday, the former chief deputy assessor, Therese O’Donnell, said McNally was in his Lonoke or Cabot offices less than 10 hours a week when it wasn’t campaign season.

McNally wasn’t in his office on Friday when The Leader called him for a comment.

O’Donnell’s grievance hearing was canceled four times before she was transferred to Collector Patricia McCallie’s office on March 31. O’Donnell is obviously a knowledgeable county employee who, like all public servants, deserves to be treated with respect. No one, especially in the courthouse, should be yelled at or harassed. She has the documents, along with incriminating text messages, to back up her allegations.

The texts from McNally include compliments such as, “You are the best,” “You are a blessing in my life” and “…please forgive me for relying on you so much.”

One sent on Nov. 18 reads, “Things run well because of you. Things run well in spite of me.”

Even McNally’s wife complained about her husband staying home too much. She texted O’Donnell, “If he’s going to keep this job, he needs to be there and be seen WORKING!!”

O’Donnell said McNally often became upset at work, yelling at her and the other women on his staff. “Jack McNally showed a side of himself that should have never been seen at any point in time. He put a fear in me that I have never experienced before. I felt that he was uncontrollable.”

She said he upset her family when he told The Leader she had been prescribed four kinds of heart medication. She told us a cardiologist gave her a clean bill of health last summer and she has never been prescribed heart medication.

O’Donnell also told Campbell that, even if his comments had been true, McNally violated the HIPPA law that prohibits employers from releasing medical information about their employees.

The former deputy, who has lived in Lonoke County for more than 40 years, began working at the courthouse in 1999, first for Hugh Keller, a former county collector, and then for former Assessor Jerry Adams. She is bright, dedicated and much liked: Just the kind of public servant the people want taking care of their business.

O’Donnell said the assessor has for three years refused to learn how to do the job he was elected to do. Instead, he delegates tasks to the staff, she told the newspaper.

An employee is doing the budget for him, O’Donnell said. She started signing time sheets because he wasn’t in the office and she didn’t want to drive to his house to make him sign them.

O’Donnell said, “I was hoping that he would take responsibility for the job he was elected to do because I was tired of doing the job that the taxpayers pay him to do…I cannot sit by any longer and see him waste the taxpayers’ money for his own gain. He has said many times this is the best job I ever had for not doing anything.”

She accused McNally of making several questionable or unnecessary purchases, including T-shirts promoting the Homestead Credit program and signs and stands for The Wounded Warrior Project. Some of the purchases have been hotly debated during Lonoke County Quorum Court meetings.

She also said she appreciates the several quorum court members who apologized about her having to go through this ordeal, although few public officials wanted the full story to come out in the newspaper.

O’Donnell said McNally cursed at her. Her husband later confronted the assessor, telling the assessor to stop abusing her.

“I don’t need this (expletive),” McNally answered back. She was terminated after her husband spoke with McNally. She said McNally met her at the back door of the courthouse on Feb. 3, asked for her key, told her she was a good employee and that she was fired. The assessor has insisted that she resigned.

O’Donnell said she never turned in a letter of resignation. But the former deputy did say she told McNally she would quit in May if he didn’t start helping her run the office.

A hostile work environment is inexcusable everywhere, but especially in a courthouse that is home to many of our democratic institutions. Public officials must set an example for those around them and treat subordinates with respect and honor the dignity of work.

In his treatment of Therese O’Donnell, Jack McNally showed poor judgment and calls into question his suitability for the job. Voters will have a chance to decide on his qualifications in the May 20 Republican primary.

We think there are more qualified candidates on the ballot.