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CareerSource FL Crown: A Malaise That Goes Deep Below the Surface. Sexual Harassment Redefined - Ignored, Whistleblowers Will Be Caught & Fired

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COLUMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA – The recent troubles at CareerSource Florida Crown: bookkeeping issues; website out of compliance with its agreement with the state; failure to properly notice meetings and an illegal walkout of the executive director along with the entire administrative staff would have some Florida Crown defenders calling them "technical" issues. See: Pt-I | Pt-II | Pt-III

Failure to comply with Florida public records law and threats by Ron Jones were a precursor to claims of sexual harassment and hostile behavior at the highest levels in the organization.

The anti-whistleblowing actions by the executive director add another level to the malaise that runs below the surface at Florida Crown.

Ron Jones: Troubled Water From the Beginning

On April 17, 2017, Florida Crown's IT Director Brian Blake resigned, giving his required two weeks' notice. On April 19, FL Crown posted the soon-to-be vacant position on the FL jobs website, the only place the position was advertised. The posting ran for four business days, concluding on April 24, 2017. There was one applicant: Ron Jones.

On April 25, 2017, FL Crown's Executive Director, Robert Jones, offered the only candidate, Ron Jones, the IT position with a starting salary of $60k ($72k in 2024 dollars) plus benefits.

Not long after Ron Jones was hired, your reporter heard a buzz of discontent at FL Crown about Ron Jones. There were remarks about Ron Jones making his own hours, i.e., coming and going whenever he wanted, and an overbearing, intimidating, and condescending personal and management style.

Not long after Ron Jones was hired, your reporter, who has been following Florida Crown since 2007, mentioned to him that the Florida Crown website was not being kept up to date, the event calendar was not working, minutes and meeting agendas were almost impossible to find and locate, and agendas were available barely before the meetings, if at all.

Ron Jones blamed the state for the website woes, claiming that it was the state's fault because it was a state-designed website, which was the website design FL Crown was required to use. He said he would look into it. It is not clear if he ever did. Nothing changed. Only recently (2024-in the past two weeks) have a couple of the deficiencies been fixed.

Florida Crown is not requred to use the website it uses.

After noticing that the website remained out of compliance and pretty much useless, and the continuing reports of the overbearing and demeaning style of Ron Jones, who some thought was running the agency, your reporter made a public record request for Ron Jones' job application and associated material concerning his employment at Florida Crown. (Requests for this kind of information have been made to other agencies without difficulties and are a common request by the media). See: Information regarding the Lake City City Manager candidates.

Executive Director Robert Jones constructively denied the request by claiming bogus exemptions and providing relatively useless information. Your reporter bent over backwards to obtain the information by taking up the denial with the Board. FL Crown dug in; the illegally redacted records were not provided.

Then, on September 12, 2018, IT Director Ron Jones took exception to your reporter's public records request. Ron Jones wasn't bashful. He warned your reporter: "Stew Lilker - This is your first and last warning..."

Your reporter sued Florida Crown, and the agency, after spending thousands of dollars, turned over the information.

In July 2019, Ron Jones accused your reporter of trying to run him over before a county meeting.

In or about 2019, Noah Walker became chairman of the Florida Crown Workforce Board: the FL Crown minutes are not available; the website didn’t improve; the Ron Jones situation continued unabated; meeting material was barely available before the meetings; board meetings at times were inaccessible through locked doors.

Sexual Harassment

The FL Crown Sexual Harassment policy became effective in October 2002. The policy was revised in October 2016. In June 2018, the policy was "approved." Executive Director Rober Jones signed off on the policy. It is unknown if the Board approved the policy in 2018. The footer of the policy is silent on the revision. There are no strike-throughs to know how the policy changed in 2016, nor is there any indication if the Board reviewed the policy.

 Executive Director Robert Jones has been under the eye of the state for his alleged financial management of FL Crown's accounts since 2019.

Executive Director can't keep up with the accurate updating and indexing of FL Crowns' policies and website, which is only a ministerial task.

What is sexual Harassment at FL Crown?

"Sexual Harassment" means unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature from any person directed towards or in the presence of an employee or applicant when:

c.  such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

The policy continues: Sexual harassment is unlawful, and will not be tolerated towards CSFC employees, contractors, providers, or customers. Offenders will be subject to legal and/or disciplinary action.

All FL Crown employees are provided with a copy of the policy and a copy of the employees written acknowledgement they understand and accept the policy must be maintained in the employee’s personnel file.

The policy states: Sexual harassment is unlawful, and offenders will be subject to legal and/or disciplinary action.

Florida Crown prohibits retaliation against an individual because a person, in good faith, made a charge or testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing involving an alleged violation of this policy.

The policy reminds staff and employees to “not take part in any form of sexual harassment.”

FL Crown also has a policy for reporting inappropriate actions. It became effective in 2006; it was revised in 2016 and approved/reviewed by Executive Director Robert Jones in 2018, once again, without any indication that the policy had been previously revised.

This policy defines "inappropriate activity in the workplace" as:

verbal abuse of coworkers or subordinates, aggressive behaviors and violence, sexual harassment, including sexual comments and unwanted touching, and other things.

Inappropriate actions are to be reported to the MIS Director [Ron Jones] or the Executive Director [Robert Jones].

The policy provides that talking about inappropriate actions to other employees is “strictly forbidden” and can result in termination.

The policy also prohibits "DEO Employees" (Department of Economic Opportunity) from talking to Board members, and apparently, they can also be terminated by FL Crown. As DEO employees do not work for Florida Crown, it is unclear how FL Crown could enforce this policy against them.

Charges Against IT & Programmatic Director Ron Jones Surface

During an Executive Committee meeting on February 16, 2023, an agenda item had some Florida Crown employees contacting the Observer. The item was a "Harassment Update" presented by Florida Crown Workforce Board Attorney Guy Norris.

The reports were vague; there was no recording of the meeting, no written report to the Executive Committee by Attorney Guy Norris, and the minutes of the February 16, 2023, meeting are not posted on the FL Crown website.

Link to Admin Asst Van Brown's noteThrough a public records request, the Observer obtained the hand written notes of the Administrative Assistant Van Brown. Ms. Brown's handwritten notes can be found here. As is usual throughout Columbia County, there is no date on Ms. Brown’s handwritten notes referencing the date of the meeting.

Ms. Brown’s comment on the last page of her notes: “Put up with a lot when job on the line,” sums up what many women have to go through on the job.

Former Public Defender investigator and friend of Guy Norris, Don Kennedy, was engaged to do an investigation of the charges of alleged sexual harassment and other alleged obnoxious behavior by Florida Crown’s number two, Ron Jones.

On February 8, 2023, Mr. Kennedy interviewed “redacted” (name redacted) about her exit interview and charges against Ron Jones.

"Redacted" knew Ron Jones' wife and "would see her at Christmas parties and other office functions." Ron "Jones and "redacted" attended 4-5 conferences together." The first incident was in Orlando in 2019. Mr. Robert Jones also attended the conference. Five or six employees took an Uber to Universal Studios one night during the conference. Ron (Jones) was in the backseat next to "redacted" and reached over and put his hand on her breast. Everyone had drinks but were not highly intoxicated…. Also, while in the van, Ron would put his hand on "redacted's" leg. This was attributed to Ron Jones' intoxication.

link to complainant interviewDuring a conference in Charleston, South Carolina, "redacted" was at the pool with her students. Ron Jones came down to the pool with a drink and a beer for "redacted." "Redacted" said she did not want to drink in front of her students. Ron Jones commented that the students would probably go up to their room and "jack off" thinking about the hot teacher.

On another occasion in 2022, Jones asked "redacted" for a hug. "Redacted" remembered she had on a sleeveless shirt, complied, and thought it was odd. "Redacted" was intimidated by Jones but thought she could handle herself; she feared retaliation. "Redacted" did not like Jones' management style and that he spoke to staff in a condescending tone and had a narcissistic personality.

In September 2022, Jones sent a text to "redacted," inviting her to his room. "Redacted" had texts showing Ron Jones invited her to his room.

"Redacted" felt that management needed to be aware of Jones’ actions so that other women who need their jobs would not have to go through behavior like she has.

Mr. Kennedy closed the interview writing, “Ron Jones told me on more than an occasion that he never texted, emailed or called "redacted.’”

Exhibits provided by "redacted" show there were text messages and phone calls.

February 9 & 10, 2023: Investigator Kennedy interviews

On February 9 and 10, Investigator Don Kenney scheduled, in order, the following individuals for interviews: Elizabeth Wetherington, Joanna Fuentes; George Green, Jr., Keaven Jones; Linda Fu, Sifoa Nunu, and Maralisa Reed.

Link to employee interviewsAll the interviewees had pretty much the same story. They all knew of or saw the inappropriate touching by Ron Jones and witnessed or knew of the drinking and the room event with “redacted.”

Ron Jones’ lack of communication skills was shared universally by the interviewees.

It is unclear why Marilisa Reed's name (interview on the bottom of pg. 3) was redacted by Mr. Kennedy. Ms. Reed is one of the staff employees that recently walked out with the Executive Director.

The Don Kennedy – Ron Jones Report

On February 7, 2023, retired former Public Defender investigator Don Kennedy interviewed Ron Jones, the object of many complaints, in the office of Florida Crown Attorney Guy Norris.

Ron Jones may have done stupid things, inappropriately had physical contact with female employees, got drunk, and was nasty, condescending, and threatening. None of these complaints had anything to do with the race of Ron Jones, his marital status, how long he was married, the number of children he has, whether or not he commutes to work with his wife, or his wife's education, which was none of Investigator Kennedy's business.

Link to Ron Jones reportYet, Don Kennedy, the purported independent investigator rounded up by Attorney Guy Norris and rubber stamped by Exec. Director Robert Jones, thought fit to identify not only Ron Jones by race but every other black male he interviewed.

Mr. Kennedy also labeled Mr. Ron Jones as a defendant, a prejudicial term. Mr. Ron Jones was not involved in a criminal or civil legal proceeding. Mr. Ron Jones was accused of violating Florida Crown policies, which he denied.

FL Crown Attorney Guy Norris was supposed to review the Kennedy reports. It is unknown if he did.

In all of Mr. Kennedy's reports, only one person, other than the black males, was identified by race; that was Erminia Bare, who was identified as w/f. Mr. Kennedy also identified Ms. Bare's marital status and the number of children, which had nothing to do with his investigation.

The Robert Jones (Executive Director) / Guy Norris Letter of Reprimand to Ron Jones

Guy Norris wrote the letter of reprimand for Executive Director Robert Jones. However, once Exec. Dir. Jones put his John Hancock on the letter, it became his.

Executive Director Jones and Attorney Norris (Jones/Norris letter) found that the putting of hands on the complainant's breast and in front of witnesses did not amount to "sexual harassment within the workforce," even though "such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.” [FL Crown Sexual Harassment Policy].

The Florida Crown Policies require all FL Crown employees to sign that they have read and understand the Sexual Harassment Policy.

link to letter of reprimand to Ron JonesThe Jones/Norris letter said that "multiple witnesses" substantiated that Ron Jones engaged in unprofessional conduct with students present and consumed alcohol in front of those students, being intoxicated and making sexualized comments to subordinate employees.

The Jones/Norris letter also stated that Ron Jones was flirtatious with female employees and inappropriately touched them, invading their personal space as a "sexual advance." Jones and Norris did not find this sexual harassment.

The Jones/Norris letter pointed out that employees “described your managerial style as overbearing, belittling and condescending, creating an intimidating work environment among some subordinate employees.” Multiple employees described the Ron Jones workplace as "toxic."

The Jones/Norris conclusion was that Ron Jones engaged in "unprofessional and inappropriate communications with subordinate employees by making "offensive, demeaning, embarrassing or intimidating" remarks; by consuming alcohol and being intoxicated in the presence of students; by "inappropriate physical contact, which intentionally exposed subordinate employees to demeaning, embarrassing and intimidating circumstances;" by discriminating "against subordinate employees of the Agency, primarily upon the basis of sex, marital status, and social and family background."

None of the above rose to the level of sexual harassment.

Ron Jones was given a written letter of reprimand, which was placed in his personnel file.

Ron Jones Responds

On March 16, 2023, Ron Jones responded to the letter of reprimand. He complained of a "personal attack on my character."

Link to Ron Jones respondsRon Jones complained that "no African American women were questioned or interviewed."

Ron Jones claimed that there was malicious intent and collaboration in the attack on his character.

Ron Jones complained that he drank with other people and was the only one being singled out for intoxication.

Ron Jones complained a group of people were conspiring against him, and if they had "testified under oath," the "report would be accurate."

The Icing on the Cake:
Executive Director Robert Jones Threatens Anyone Who Complains to the State With Termination

On February 23, 2023, many FL Crown workers were up in arms. They had discovered that Ron Jones was on administrative leave with pay. They knew why and were furious and feeling helpless.

Link to Robert Jones threat to workersAt least one worker reached out to the state and made a complaint regarding the Ron Jones situation. The substance of that complaint was never made public.

Executive Director Robert Jones found out about the complaint. He had no sympathy for the women who had to deal with Ron Jones every day.

Executive Director Robert Jones told the employees: “I don't know who made the call, but like I said, I know who didn't make the call, and we will find out who made the call. And like I said, whoever made that call just as well to have their resignation ready to turn in. Now, is [sic] there any questions?"

Updated March 29, 2024: fixed one spelling error; one grammar error; added link.

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