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Complaint moves forward

Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:48 PM

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A county engineer's discrimination complaint against Hernando County will be settled by an outside, objective arbitrator.

Cristi Charlow, the county's risk management coordinator, said Hernando County has decided to turn the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint to a mediator.

"We have chosen to go to mediation, like we do with all of our EEOC cases," Charlow said.

The complaint, lodged by Diana Koontz, a staff engineer with the utilities department, is also being looked into by the Hernando County NAACP branch for possible civil rights violations.

Paul Douglas, the first vice president of the local branch, said if deemed to have merit, the complaint will be sent to the state, and possibly federal, level of the NAACP for further investigation, Douglas said.

But Douglas believes one county commissioner, Chairman Wayne Dukes, was out of bounds when he referenced the complaint during last week's county commission meeting, especially because there is an active investigation.

Douglas said it sounded to him as if Dukes was dismissing not only the complaint but also the press, which brought the matter to light.

"He now has to answer for what he said," Douglas said.

It started early in the meeting when resident Chuck Gordon called Director of Environmental Services Susan Goebel-Canning's placing of an unflattering memo in Koontz's evaluation file without the employee's knowledge an "egregious" act and said she "needs to have her wrists slapped" with a reprimand.

Dukes chose to address Gordon in lieu of the normal procedure of allowing the county administrator to answer citizen comments.

Dukes told Gordon he made some strong comments about a staff person "and that is your right."

"But being as you don't work in that environment, you don't work in that area I can only assume you made your comments from an article in the newspaper and those people who spoke to the newspaper," Dukes said. "And we would like to think in this day that everything we read and see on the Internet is 100 percent correct, but I know and you know that that's not true."

"So rest assured that any actions that need to be taken will be taken, but like I say you have to be really careful where you get your source of information," Dukes added.

Douglas said Dukes had no business weighing in on the matter and it places the county in a bad light with the union, which is supporting Koontz in her claim.

In her complaint filed last month, Koontz alleged that Goebel-Canning intentionally impeded her chances at career advancement.

Koontz also said in the complaint she believes she has been discriminated against "due to my gender."

Goebel-Canning, Koontz's manager, has denied she is on a campaign to harm Koontz' career and said an unflattering memo she included in the latter's personnel file was meant to correct some of her deficiencies.

Dukes said Tuesday he decided to comment directly to Gordon because he made such harsh, "almost slanderous" comments based on hearsay statements made in a newspaper.

"We don't need citizens coming up and basically slandering people on either side of the situation," Dukes said.

Dukes said Douglas is free to say what he wants "and I'm accountable for what is said." (352) 544-5290

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