Gadsden Commission Chair accused of making racial slurs
Months after being looked over for the county administrator position, former county administrator candidate Derrick Elias is suing the Gadsden Board of County Commissioners in the United States District Court for damages in excess of $75,000.
Elias is also suing Commissioner Brenda Holt in her official capacity as county commission chair.
In that suit, Elias alleges that Holt used racial slurs while demanding that he terminate the employment of several department leaders in the county.
Elias applied for the county administrator position in May 2020.
At the time he applied, the position was held by interim county administrator Henry Grant.
According to documents filed in federal court, the following occurred:
On September 15, after the county had advertised the administrator position for multiple months, Holt made a motion to hire Edward Dixon. The motion died due to lack of a second.
Throughout the following two days, the board interviewed candidates for the position during board meetings.
Elias was interviewed for the position on September 17, and after Elias’ interview and discussion on the candidates, the board voted the same day to hire Elias as the new county administrator, with Elias receiving a 4-1 approving vote.
Holt was the only commissioner who voted no.
Court records say that after the vote, the county’s Human Resources director Loynell Fields contacted Elias and set up the required fingerprinting and urinalysis needed for his employment to begin.
During that conversation, Elias asked Fields to discuss scheduling a meeting with the county attorney to begin contract negotiations.
Court documents say that Fields later emailed Elias and informed him that the board would present him with a contract before the October 16 board meeting so it could be reviewed by Elias and the county attorney prior to the meeting.
Later, Fields followed back up with Elias and informed him that the board was refusing to authorize county attorney Clayton Knowles to meet with him to negotiate his contract.
However, Fields did forward the contracts of Dee Jackson and Robert Presnell – the two previous county administrators – to Elias and informed him that the board had budgeted $127,500 for the salary of the new administrator.
By the end of September, the board had not contacted Elias about his contract, so he submitted a proposal that he personally drafted.
An agenda request was submitted on October 6 by the interim county administrator and the county attorney, which stated that the board had negotiated a contract with Elias.
Elias said that was not true, and he said the only contract seen by any of the parties named in the lawsuit was the contract drafted by Elias himself.
At that point, the court documents say that Holt called him, and asked to meet with him.
Elias said they met at the county offices parking lot, and she asked him to ride with her in her truck to her property in Mount Pleasant on October 13.
Elias said when he met with Holt she expressed her displeasure that he was appointed county administrator, and Elias says Holt asked him to hire her friend Edward Dixon as assistant administrator.
Elias said Holt then identified various county department heads who she said needed to be terminated by Elias once he became county administrator.
Elias informed Holt he would make those decisions, and he would hire the best-suited candidate as his assistant, and would not make the decision at the direction of a board member.
According to the official complaint: “Defendant Holt became increasingly frustrated and responded that she needed Mr. Dixon as part of the county administrator team because ‘[he] has to be up here to get things done.’ She expanded on this statement by telling plaintiff [Elias] that ‘we need to take this county back’ and that ‘these crackers have to go.’”
The complaint states that Elias took the statement to mean Holt wanted to remove Caucasian employees from the county, and that Dixon would assist with that goal.
In an interview with the Times, Elias said he was not at liberty to disclose which department heads Holt wanted him to fire.
He added that during his interview for the county administrator position, he told the commissioners to never ask him to do anything illegal, unethical or immoral.
He also said during his meeting with Holt, he reminded her that the board is responsible for making policies, and the county administrator is responsible for executing the policies. He said the board is not to interfere in day-to-day operations.
“I told her I don’t operate like that,” Elias said. “Don’t go to staff, and staff won’t report to them.”
Elias said after meeting with Holt, he attempted to go before the board to negotiate his contract during a public meeting, in which the contract was on the agenda to be discussed.
Elias said then County Commission Chair Anthony Viegbesie did not allow him to speak, and the board voted to move forward with hiring another candidate.
Elias said the board presented Dixon with the same contract that Elias presented the board with.
Elias also said before filing suit, his attorney sent the county a demand letter, where he attempted to settle for $150,000.
However, he says no one from the county ever responded.
In the lawsuit, Elias is alleging violation of due process, first amendment retaliation, and conspiracy to violate civil rights.
According to the summons, the county has 21 days after receiving it to respond, not counting the day it was served.
Erin Hill – firstname.lastname@example.org