Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County

Art Butler, 19.5 yr Veteran Dir. of Facilities Maintenance, Terminated: A "Set Up?"

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Art Butler, until he was terminated on Thursday afternoon, was a long time (19.5 yr.) county employee. He was a public employee known throughout North Florida as a man of skill and integrity; a man that didn't cut corners; a man that always made sure the public received value for its tax dollars; and a man of his word. In Florida's infamous Columbia County, these are traits that in some circles, are considered a liability.

Late Thursday afternoon, August 13, your reporter received a call that the 19 1/2 yr. County veteran had been terminated.

Subsequent calls revealed that there was some kind of scuffle at the County offices on the morning of July 24, 2015. Those involved were Acting County Manager, Ben Scott; Assistant County Managers Kevin Kirby and the newly hired Scott Ward; IT Director, Todd Manning (by cell phone); and Mr. Butler.

The record, reports, and interviews reveal that whatever happened on the morning of July 24, no one called the police; no one called an ambulance; and none of the purported victims claimed any injuries that required medical attention. Some people's feelings were hurt.

County Manager Dale Williams: Where was he?

Columbia County is in transition. On March 5, 2015, on a motion by Commissioner Bucky Nash, the County 5 decided that 30+ year veteran County Manager Dale Williams would cease being County Manager on August 1, although he would receive his full salary and benefits until October 1, at a cost to Columbia County tax payers of $26,000. County Manager Williams' contract expires on October 1. However, even before March 5, Mr. Scott was at the helm of Columbia County.

The word is that veteran County Manager Williams offered to handle the incident. It is not clear why his offer was not recognized.

The fact is that after August 1st, Acting County Manager Ben Scott had the authority to terminate Mr. Butler.

Who was at ground zero?

There is a stack of reports regarding the incident. Some things are clear. There was a meeting. IT Director Todd Manning, the same Todd Manning who resigned from the County due to various personal issues and was offered a position by City Manager Wendell Johnson, subsequently changing his mind and keeping his County job, was involved.

Ray Hill, the County's controversial Purchasing Director was there and involved.

Kevin Kirby, the County's former Public Works Director and now Assistant County Manager, was there. At the time in and around the incident, Mr. Kirby was not sure who he supervised and who other folks supervised. Mr. Kirby has had his own issues with the County. The County godfathers continue to cover up some of that.

Assistant County Manager, and now Acting County Manager, Ben Scott, took on the responsibility for handling this incident. Mr. Scott was anointed to his job as County Manager. The County never advertised for a County Manager to replace its retiring County Manager, Dale Williams. This has nothing to do with Mr. Scott, as Columbia County has generally used as its personnel model the Habsburg employment model for those in the higher echelons of Columbia County government. (Learn more about the Habsburgs)

However, Mr. Scott is knowledgeable, well-spoken, educated, and a top-notch finance man. His prior work experience and responsibilities clearly indicate that he would have never had to handle this type of incident.

Facilities and Maintenance Director Art Butler, was a long time (19.5 yr.) County employee. Throughout North Florida he is thought of as man of skill and integrity; a man that didn't cut corners; a man that always made sure the public received value for its tax dollars; and a man of his word. In Florida's infamous Columbia County, these are traits that in some circles, are considered a liablilty.

In a nutshell: Boys will be boys?

For some time, Purchasing Director Ray Hill and Director of Facilities Maintenance Art Butler had not been getting along.

The Reports: Manning, Hill, and the Siamese Triplets?

The reports vary, but are very close. While some are signed, there are no affidavits (signing under the penalty of perjury). Todd Manning's statement was in the form of a "Memo." On July 27, Todd Manning wrote to HR Director, Lisa Roberts, "As requested, please see my comments attached concerning the incident on July 24th, 2015..." Mr. Manning reported that Mr. Butler called Mr. Hill two kinds of shit: "A human piece of shit and a f__king piece of shit." (Mr. Manning's recollections are here)

On July 27, Ray Hill, who would be considered the victim, made a statement. Mr. Hill claimed various things including that Mr. Butler called him two kinds of shit: "A worthless piece of shit" and a "Worthless piece of human shit." Mr. Hill never claimed that Mr. Butler hit him. Mr. Hill claimed that Mr. Butler "dove across the table and grabbed me." (Mr. Hill's statement is here)

Finally, on July 27, Assistant County Manager Scott and the two Assistant County Managers, Kirby and Ward made a joint statement. At least for a short time, the threesome appear to be connected at the brain and if not hard-wired, there can be no question that they collaborated on their joint statement, as it begins with, "On July 24, we, Ben Scott, Kevin Kirby and Scott Ward..." The Siamese statement claims that Mr. Butler called Mr. Hill two different kinds of shit: "a piece of shit" and "a human piece of shit."  (The Joint Statement is here)

Here Come the Attorneys

On August 4, 2015, Columbia County contacted the Florida Association of Counties, which advised them to contact the law firm of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP.

On August 5, J. Evan Gibbs, III, of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, traveled to Columbia County to investigate the incident. Mr. Gibbs stated in a memo that he interviewed "Scott, Kirby, Ward, Hill, Manning and Butler." He also claimed that he interviewed "Williams." This would appear to be County Manager Dale Williams, Mr. Butler's supervisor for the past 19.5 years. There is nothing in Mr. Gibbs memorandum (see next paragraph) regarding the interview of the County Manager Williams.

On August 12, 2015, Mr. Gibbs presented a memorandum to Columbia County, which rehashed the Siamese statement of Scott – Kirby – Ward, and the statements of Mr. Manning and Mr. Hill. Mr. Gibbs' memorandum is based mostly on hearsay and is not unbiased. The law firm works for Columbia County. There was nothing in the County file which indicates that the meeting was recorded or anyone was sworn in.


One thing is certain: after all the purported name calling, the County can't get its literal "shit" together.

This may be just a case of "boys will be boys."

It is time Columbia County grew up, put everybody back to work and moved ahead with County business, which after all is the people's business and what they get paid to do.

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