CONWAY -- The Faulkner County office whose director is accused of sexual harassment is rapidly losing its employees, according to public records obtained through an Arkansas Freedom of Information Act request.
By month's end, Office of Emergency Management Director Shelia Bellott will have only one employee reporting to her if she doesn't hire someone before then. And that employee works in an office more than 5 miles from the building where Bellott has been assigned to work separately in response to harassment allegations.
The office normally employs four people in addition to Bellott. Since November, three have quit or have notified the county of plans to leave this month.
County Judge Jim Baker has declined to suspend or fire Bellott, despite two investigations, at least one of which led to a recommendation that she be fired. The findings of the second investigation have not been publicly disclosed.
Baker is the only person who can legally fire Bellott, but the county's Quorum Court can withhold funding for her position if it chooses.
In October, two of the office's departing employees filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Little Rock against Bellott, the county, Baker and County Administrator Tom Anderson.
None of the resignation letters, obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette under the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, gave a reason for departure. Thomas Mickel, the attorney for those suing, declined to comment Thursday, citing the pending case.
Bellott did not return a phone message seeking comment. She has declined to comment previously.
Baker had no comment because of the lawsuit, county attorney David Hogue said Thursday. Several justices of the peace did not respond to an email request for comment Thursday.
One justice of the peace, John Pickett, said in an email late Thursday that he had not known about the office's turnover.
Those suing are Mary Johnson, who submitted her notice of resignation Jan. 9, and Julie Woodward, who resigned effective Nov. 17. Johnson's last day is Tuesday. Tyler Lachowsky submitted his notice of resignation Jan. 12, effective Jan. 31. Lachowsky and Eric DuVall, the office's only employee other than Bellott who has not resigned, also filed complaints against Bellott with the county but have not sued.
The complaints with the county allege various infractions, including harassment, recurring tardiness, absenteeism and falsified time cards. The complaints indicated that the employees were upset that Bellott purportedly talks about her sex life in sometimes graphic terms during work.
In court documents, the plaintiffs contend that Bellott, "with the apparent authority of Defendants Anderson and Baker, has continued to place tedious and harassing requirements on the Plaintiffs in retaliation [for] their written complaints."
The lawsuit is scheduled for a jury trial starting Nov. 18 before U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr.
Hogue said Woodward has transferred to the prosecuting attorney's office.
Hogue said Bellott's office has not hired any replacement workers. Advertisements about the open positions were being prepared, Hogue said Wednesday.
Hogue has said previously that he orally recommended Bellott's dismissal.
Defense attorneys in the lawsuit have argued that the county judge took corrective action after the harassment investigation, "including moving Defendant Bellott to other work locations."
Baker first instructed Bellott to work from her home instead of with other employees at Emergency Management offices on Acklin Gap Road. Later, Baker assigned her to work in the county's old courthouse in downtown Conway. Other office employees Bellott oversees remain in the Acklin Gap Road building.
The lawsuit said Bellott is allowed to communicate by phone with just one employee, Lachowsky, who relays information to the others.
Hogue said in response to a second Freedom of Information Act request that the county owns the roughly 7,500-square-foot building on Acklin Gap Road, which also is used for other county purposes. The Office of Emergency Management occupies about 20 percent of the building, he said.
The most recent monthly utility bills at the building included $391.26 for electricity, $111.81 for Internet, $82.79 for a phone landline and $13.80 for long-distance phone service, Hogue said.
A Section on 01/19/2018
Print Headline: Emergency office soon to have only 1 worker; director is facing harassment lawsuit