Kelly Lowrey, the Man Who Knows Too Much, Puts County on Notice: "You've defamed me"
Kelly Lowrey said no mas to kickbacks. Then there was trouble.
Posted August 7, 2016 11:55 pm
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On Tuesday, August 2, 2016, Columbia County received notice from noted employment attorney, Marie Mattox, that she was representing the County Sports Marketing Director Kelly Lowrey in his claims against the County. Mr. Lowrey is claiming slander, defamation of character, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and other possible civil claims against Columbia County.
Ms. Mattox explained the claim:
On or about December 21, 2015, Mr. Lowrey was placed on three days leave without pay. Then, on June 12, 2016, an article appeared in the Lake City Reporter citing Paula Vann, Mr. Lowrey’s supervisor, who falsely stated that Mr. Lowrey was responsible for a $3,000,000 loss to the Board. Other actions have been taken against Mr. Lowrey by the Board for which relief will be sought. Read the Notice of Claim
On March 21, 2014, Mr. Lowrey sent his application to the County with the following note to the "Commissioners." "I have attached my application for the position of Sports Marketing Director for Columbia County. Columbia County is my hometown and would enjoy working for the people of Columbia County..."
In his application Mr. Lowrey wrote the following, "I strive for excellence in every aspect of my job."
Mr. Lowrey was the starting quarterback for Columbia High School and FSU.
On December 1, 2014, Mr. Lowrey was awarded the job over 12 other applicants.
On September 8, 2015, almost three months after Mr. Lowrey completed his probation, an entry was made in his personnel file that he had completed his probation in June. Recently, Columbia County has had difficulty keeping up.
Things went along fine until December 15, 2015, when the County claimed that Mr. Lowrey ignored promoter Tak Walden, communicated with him by email, and didn't attend the promoter's tournaments.
The County also claimed that Mr. Lowrey failed and/or refused to attend sporting events after hours and weekends.
The County claimed that this was not Mr. Lowrey's first warning and suspended him for 3 days without pay. County Manager Ben Scott gave the suspension its final approval.
Early in 2016, your reporter asked Mr. Lowrey about the charges in his file. He did not agree with the characterization of the County and claimed he was working 80 hours a week.
It is not clear why Mr. Lowrey did not file a grievance. However, the County's personnel policy only allows three days to do that.
The County Brass Poker Games: A Game of County Insiders
Sometime in the very early part of 2016, a bunch of County insiders generally understood to be: County Manager Ben Scott, Assistant County Manager Scott Ward, Director of Purchasing Ray Hill, Director of Grounds Clint Pittman, IT Director Todd Manning, Property Appraiser Specialist Jerry Stanley, and former Emergency Management Director Ronnie McCardle got together for their insider's Friday night poker game.
Soon after that poker game in either January or February, the exact date is not clear, various stories flashed around the County. The most prevalent one was that one of the main County honchos had too much to drink and articulated a hit list of employees he wanted to axe.
It is a fact that Commissioner Nash said, "No more poker games." The poker games stopped. Kelly Lowrey was thought to be one of about seven on the axe list.
The Tourist Development Council (TDC)
TDC Director Paula Vann. She heard the conversation on May 25.
Early in 2016 there was some concern at the TDC regarding the Southside Recreation Center's tournament schedule.
The monthly calendars presented at the TDC meetings showed a number of tournament cancellations.
The County had increased some of the tournament fees. Apparently, at least one long time promoter, who had developed a close relationship with Harvey Campbell, the former TDC Director, balked.
The tournament cancellations were all at the beginning of the year, a time which is problematic for tournaments.
Assistant County Manager Scott Ward purportedly did a study of the previous 5 years that verified this.
Scott Ward. His email told the story.
On March 8, 2016, Mr. Ward claimed in an email to have spoken with an unidentified TDC member. Columbia County has an aversion to naming officials and answering questions. However, Mr. Ward's email, other than leaving out the name of the TDC member, did name others with whom he spoke.
Tak Walden of USSSA Baseball explained he cancelled the tournaments because of scheduling against the Super Bowl; alternative dates were already booked; and that "he would return to Columbia County next year."
Roy Hattaway of USFA Girls Softball and USFA Grand Slam Baseball cancelled "due to weather and not getting enough teams to come."
None of the promoters in Mr. Ward's email criticized Mr. Lowrey in any way.
May 25, 2016: The TDC Meeting
TDC Bd member Napur Shukla asked for an explanation. (File)
On May 25, the TDC met for its scheduled meeting. One of the Lake City Reporter's cub reporters was in attendance. The question of tournament cancellations was brought front and center.
When the tournament schedule was projected on the screen, TDC Board member Nupur Shukla asked, "There are many games that have been cancelled. Is there any reason why they were cancelled or postponed?"
Mr. Lowrey explained, "Girls Softball, mainly (some rained out). USSSA softball that we used to have here. Vince Tucker. We signed him to come back to Lake City (five tournaments)."
TDC Board member Mike Collins followed up, "It seems like we have lost so much ground, especially on the Girls Softball side."
Mr. Lowrey responded, "When we changed the rates to $25 a game in Girls Softball and the word got out that we were gonna' charge what we charged in baseball. That kinda put a damper."
There was conversation about another promoter, "Addison," who was not in Mr. Ward's email.
Mr. Lowrey explained, "He wanted us to guarantee 1,500 rooms. That's pretty difficult to do."
Board member Collins agreed.
Mr. Lowrey continued, "Yes sir, I get that. We had a guy that was working for Addison that wanted a kickback from the hotels and the hotels had a problem with it. You know, they were wantin' to book a room -- get a discount -- and then get that 10% or $10 kickback. When I first came on to work here and I was told by some of the hotels -- they just don't want to do that."
Mr. Collins responded, "I understand that," adding, "They generate a lot of enthusiasm -- A lot."
Mr. Lowrey explained that he was reaching out to other promoters, "I'm working on several right now."
Mr. Lowrey added that "Girls Softball is coming back this year."
A Babe Ruth representative added, "That's the state tournament for Babe Ruth softball. We were here in 2014. I think we had 86 teams, which at the time was the largest single Babe Ruth event in the country -- boys or girls. We came back again this year. I'm expecting about 100 teams this year."
He continued, "In 2014 we generated about 1600 room nights over that five day period... Everybody that was here loves it... It's a perfect location to run a large tournament... I'd like to have it here from now on... I've got the teams in South Florida screaming to have the tournament down there... I'm going to try and work on having it back here again next year."
The Lake City Reporter: Columbia County's Pravda
Lake City cub reporter Carl McKinney is on the far left holding camera.
The Lake City Reporter's cub reporter, Carl McKinney, was in the front row during the May 25 TDC meeting.
TDC Director Paula Vann had her baby and was in attendance.
On June 12, the Lake City Reporter ran an article with the headline: "$3M hit for TDC tourney program: Marketing director largely to blame for losses, says TDC Director Paula Vann."
On July 7, the Lake City Reporter ran another article: "A reversal of course on Lowrey: TDC chief claims Reporter article took her comments out of context."
The author of this missive was "From staff reports," whatever that is. The Reporter uses that catch phrase for reprinting other people's press releases or when they don't want to take ownership of an article.
The July 7 article, by From Staff Reports, is very similar to the Reporter June 12 article.
With the elevation of Commissioner Nash to Chairman, the anointment of County Manager Ben Scott, and the election of the people's County Attorney, Joel Foreman, Columbia County has gone from one mess and one lawsuit to another.
Before this article went live, the Observer asked Mr. Lowrey for a comment. He would not comment on the lawsuit, but he told the Observer, "I will continue working hard to market Columbia County and I will continue doing my job the best that I can for the people of Columbia County."