Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

County News

40 yr School Board Veteran and Property Owner
"I don't think they should have been fired"

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On May 31, 2016, Lake City resident and county commission candidate, B Coker, snapped a few photos of County workers mowing a lawn in her neighborhood with County lawn mowers. She brought the photos to the Lake City Reporter. In part I, Terminated: County Manager Throws Book at 2 County Road Workers For Mowing Mom's Lawn, we covered the evaluations of the two terminated employees; the Lake City Reporter article, which some believe was the cause of the termination; the questions that neither the County 5 nor the County Staff would answer, and an interview with one of the two of the terminated.

In part II, we begin with an interview of Dakota Owens, whose mom's lawn was mowed with a County lawn mower, which resulted in his termination.

Part II

Dakota Owens about to drive the mower back onto the trailer.

A little while later, the Observer spoke with Dakota Owens. It was his mom that was a tenant in the house. Mr. Owens was not as articulate as Mr. Merritt and he sounded to be more in distress. After a bit of small talk the conversation began:

Mr. Owens:  It was the newspaper that got us fired. That's what they said.

The Observer: Who said the newspaper got you fired?

Mr. Owens:  Kevin Kirby. He said if that didn't happen it would have been a different outcome. That's why I lost my job. He said you only would have gotten a slap on the wrist and one day home. That was required in the handbook, one day home. I should have got one day home.

The Observer: Can you tell me a little bit about what happened?

Mr. Merritt:  I went to my mom's house to get something to eat. My mom's push mower broke. A push mower from 30 years ago.

The Observer:  She rents the house. The landlord is responsible for mowing the lawn?

Mr. Owens: Yes -- you know it's my mom. I would do anything for her and I know you would, too. I don't want to get my mom in trouble for this. He has a guy that comes over and mows the lawn... Please don't get my mom in trouble. She has three jobs goin'. I was just bein' a good son. I'll take my punishment.

The Observer: Do you know who fired you?

Mr. Owens:  Kevin Kirby. I heard it was Ben Scott, too. I don't know who fired me... I loved my job. I loved working for this county. I just want to get my job back.

The Observer:  I hope you do.

Mr. Owens:  I'm not going to do that same mistake again.

The Observer:  Do you have any kids?

Mr. Owens:  No I do not. I was planning on having one, till this happened.

The Observer:  Do you have any other jobs lined up?

Mr. Owens:  Not right now. I'm trying to stick this one out.

The Observer:  Did you file a protest about your firing?

Mr. Owens:  Yeah, a grievance form. I think so.

The Observer:  You think you did?

Mr. Owens:  What time do you all close? I can call you back. My wife helps me talk. I'm not really good on the phone.

The Observer:  I'm really sorry you lost your job. People are not happy.

Mr. Owens:  I just want you to put on there, thanks for everybody that's tryin' to help me. It means a lot.

Commissioner Ronald Williams

Yesterday morning Commissioner Ronald Williams told the Observer that he didn't know who owned the property. He said he was going to look into it.

Keith Hudson, 40 yr School Bd. Veteran

Keith Hudson is known as a straight shooter. He has always been a straight arrow with your reporter. Late yesterday afternoon he returned your reporter's phone call.

The Observer:  The County's covering up that it was your property.

Mr. Hudson:  It's my property. I didn't know anything about it till I read the paper. I didn't even realize it when I read it in the paper, but later on I was talking about it with a group of people, they told me the lady that called them, I know where she lives. She lives diagonally across from my property. Yeah, it's mine. I got my own guys that do the mowin'...

Mr. Hudson:  For the most part we do all the mowin'. If you don't do the mowin' inside the City limits, they'll send me a nice certified letter about it. We generally try to mow about every two weeks, but sometimes we don't. I mow em' because I want to maintain my property... I know Sherri Owens because she rents from me. I knew she had a son, but I couldn't pick him out of a police lineup.

The Observer:  Here's the deal. These two guys that have nothing, got fired for mowing your lawn... The word I got from more than one person, is that if they would not have gone to the newspaper, these guys would not have been fired. And if B. Coker wouldn't have gone to the newspaper, they would not have been fired... The newspaper knew the address and so did the County. They know you owned the property, something you weren't trying to keep a secret.

Mr. Hudson: Right.

"Do You Think Those Two Guys Should Have Been Terminated?"

The Observer:  Both of them have clean records. What should have resulted in a one or two day suspension for an unauthorized activity basically resulted in them getting terminated on the spot. What I'm asking you, as a community leader, do you think those two guys should have been terminated for mowing your lawn?

Mr. Hudson:  I don't think so -- mine or anybody else's for what they did if it was a first-time offense and they had good records -- they didn't have previous reprimands or letters in that file -- it seems to me like the punishment didn't equate to what they had done. They shouldn't have done it. I guess they know that. They were doing it for the guy's mom. I don't think they should have been fired.

Mr. Hudson mentioned that if anyone wanted to know who owned the property it wouldn't have been hard to find out.

Mr. Hudson:  The newspaper called me. They called me after the article had come out. In the afternoon, the article came out in the morning. I told em' just like I told you. I have my own people to mow. The lady hadn't called me and complained.

The Observer: I think they may have just been doing a favor for the guys mother.

Mr. Hudson:  I think that's what it was. I hate those guys lost their jobs over it. I'll tell you that. Everybody's got to live and people make mistakes. And good people make mistakes. You get a reprimand -- you get a couple of days off and do whatever you've got to do. But wham, you just automatically send them to the house. That's just wrong.

The Observer: I appreciate the conversation.

Mr. Hudson:  Anytime.


Both Mr. Merritt and Mr. Owens have appealed their terminations. The Observer has not spoken with anyone or heard of anyone that thought their terminations were justified.

The fact that any record regarding their terminations, including the County Manager's June 2 letter terminating both employees and stating "Hand Delivered" was not in the file on June 2 is suspect at the very least.

The record indicates that the letter was hand delivered the following day.

The Columbia County 5 – the legend continues.

Photo: Keith Hudson, Columbia County School Bd

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.