County employee files complaint against Jones

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DEBORAH WHEELER @WaltonSunDeb

Making claims of discrimination and harassment, among other allegations, Walton County Deputy County Administrator Dede Hinote has lodged a formal complaint with County Administrator Larry Jones.

A letter of complaint to Jones, dated Oct. 6, was submitted by Attorney Jennifer Sullivan with the Guilday Law firm of Destin.

Hinote alleges in the letter that she has been “subjected to several instances of discrimination and harassment and other unlawful behavior in (and arising out of) the workplace” by Walton County Commission Chair Cecilia Jones and her husband, Jerry Jones. The letter stated that Hinote has reported these incidents to her supervisor, Larry Jones (no relation), who neglected to respond.

The letter stated that Hinote has been 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 and subjected her to emotional distress.

The discrimination is due to Cecilia Jones reassigning Hinote from her usual duties, prohibiting her from traveling and attending continuing education courses and conferences directly related to her job duties that she has historically attended, according to the complaint.

Hinote stated in the complaint that some of her job responsibilities have been reassigned to her male counterpart, Deputy County Administrator of Operations Stan Sunday, including presentations at board meetings and reassignment of other projects.

In addition, according to the complaint, “Walton County frequently recognizes, acknowledges, and gives credit to her male counterpart for work performed or tasks successfully completed by Ms. Hinote.”

Hinote also alleges that despite the recommendations of a grand jury, Cecilia Jones continues to interfere in the day-to-day operations of county government, though specifics were not noted.

Hinote stated that Jerry Jones had harassed her and made several unfounded complaints against her with the state attorney, property appraiser and supervisor of elections. He also has allegedly driven by Hinote’s home in Walton County, according to the letter.

Hinote, who recently moved into her parents’ home just over the Holmes County line, alleges in the letter that she found Jerry Jones waiting at the end of her driveway one morning as she was pulling out to go to work. Hinote asked Jones why he was parked outside her house and his answer was that he was looking for “someone else’s house.” This took place, according to the complaint, at 7:30 a.m. in Holmes County. Hinote reported the incident to Larry Jones, who she said did nothing.

According to the complaint, Jerry Jones parked his car in the Walton County parking lots of several county offices in DeFuniak Springs and monitors employees’ comings and goings. Hinote stated it is known that he carries a weapon and his continued harassment creates a reasonable fear of injury to herself and subjects her to emotional distress.

Hinote went on to state it has been reported there is an unofficial “hit list” created by at least one elected official that she declined to name in the complaint, and the list is an effort to target employees for termination. Hinote added that scheming by one county commissioner to “get” her is in an email communication generated by them. She stated in the complaint that this creates an unreasonable fear and is an abuse of power.

Hinote states in the complaint that she has an exemplary record of performing her job duties with absence of any negative reviews or discipline in more than 25 years.

“We request you investigate this immediately, get to the bottom of it, and report it to the appropriate authorities,” Sullivan wrote in the complaint to Larry Jones. “We would like to discuss this with you further.”

Hinote told The Sun that this is not a lawsuit, but a complaint she has submitted to her supervisor through her lawyer, to whom she referred The Sun for comment. Sullivan did not respond to phone calls and email requests for comment. Nor did Larry Jones.

“We take such matters seriously and have engaged outside legal counsel to investigate this situation,” Cecilia Jones wrote in an email to The Sun. “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.”

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