Deputy County Administrator Complains of Workplace Harassment and Discrimination

By DOTTY NIST

Dede Hinote, one of Walton County’s two deputy county administrators, has complained of workplace discrimination, along with “harassment and other unlawful behavior,” toward her by Walton County, as stated in an Oct. 6 letter from her attorney, Jennifer A. Sullivan, to Walton County Administrator Larry Jones.

Describing Hinote as “a dedicated and long-term employee who has worked with Walton County for nearly her entire career,” the letter brings to the administrator’s attention, as Hinote’s direct supervisor, alleged instances of her being, “subjected to discrimination based on sex and has experienced aggressive and hostile behavior from at least one Walton County official, including at least one member of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners, which has created fear in Ms. Hinote and subjected her to emotional distress,” as stated in the document.

Contained in the complaint letter are allegations of Hinote being re-assigned from her usual responsibilities, including a transfer of duties, presentations, and projects from Hinote to Walton County’s other deputy administrator, along with credit going to the other administrator for
work and tasks accomplished by Hinote. (The other deputy administrator is a male, Stan Sunday.)

Other complaint allegations involve interference in “day to day operations of County government” by Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) Chair Cecilia Jones and “harassment” by Jones’ husband Jerry Jones, including “unfounded complaints” stated to have been filed against Hinote by Mr. Jones with several state and local officials. The letter also contains reports of Mr. Jones driving by Hinote’s home and parking outside her house, and alleged instances of him “on many mornings,” parking in the lots of several county offices in DeFuniak Springs and monitoring “employees’ comings and goings, including Ms. Hinote’s.” These reports had previously been provided to Administrator Jones by Hinote, according to the letter.

“It has also been reported that there’s an unofficial ‘hit list’ created by at least one elected official and generated in an effort to target employees throughout the County to terminate,” the letter further states.

The letter concludes with the statement that the complaint was not the course of action that Hinote would have preferred but that “she feels she has not other recourse,” with a request for investigation of the details of the complaint/reporting them to appropriate authorities, and a request for further discussion with Hinote and her attorney.

Phone calls and emails to Administrator Jones and attorney Sullivan by the Herald/Breeze seeking comment on the complaint were not returned.

On Oct. 17, BCC Chair Cecilia Jones provided the following written comment on the matter: “We take such matters seriously and have engaged outside legal counsel to investigate this situation. The investigation is under way, giving all parties an opportunity to be heard, and on the advice of counsel, we have no further comment until the investigation is complete.”

Attached is the letter to Walton County Administrator Larry Jones.
Letter to Walton County Administrator Larry Jones