Blockbuster suit reaches quiet end
Hey it’s Wednesday so let’s talk about former Commissioner Scott Carnahan.
Where to begin.
Oh, I guess with the news: Kristin Demers, the former county budget director who sued the county in 2021 over Carnahan’s alleged offensive behavior, is settling for $60,000.
The county denies any wrongdoing. But it is logical to settle for $60K when protracted litigation could be much more costly.
Let’s go back a few years.
Demers was the county management and budget director. She quit for a better job in Ocala but decided that wasn’t for her, so she tried to get her old job back.
This is where it gets interesting.
The county administrator, the late Randy Oliver, wanted Demers back. There was a county commission meeting about it, things got a little convoluted, and in the end Demers rejected the administrator’s offer.
Or so we thought. After that board meeting, Demers and Oliver continued to talk about the job and they reached an agreement. Before taking it to the commission again, Oliver suggested Demers reach out to the commissioners because they would vote to confirm her.
She called Carnahan on his personal cell and he said he didn’t have time to meet with her.
Now the head-scratching part:
Demers said Carnahan sent her sexually explicit texts and when Demers complained to Oliver about it, the job offer was rescinded.
Carnahan said he didn’t send the texts. Instead, he claims he left his phone alone for a minute and fun-loving buddies sent the texts. We all have friends like that, right? Wanting to embarrass us by being offensive?
That was in July 2019. Demers filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. In 2021, with Carnahan serving his final year in office, Demers sued the county for sexual harassment, sexual discrimination and retaliation. Carnahan is not a defendant.
The lawsuit accused Carnahan of spewing a “barrage of unwanted sexual behavior” toward Demers, including:
—Comments about her physical appearance.
—Unwanted romantic and sexual interest, such as asking Demers if she’s single.
—Sexual propositions, “such as soliciting Plaintiff to drive to, have dinner with him, and spend the night in Tallahassee and instructing Plaintiff to call in sick to work the next day.”
The lawsuit states Carnahan promised her the job and more money if she submitted to his “sexual demands.”
Carnahan denied it all and the county mounted a vigorous defense. The court filings are filled with lawyer stuff, but the county truly believed it was in the right (though it never said a peep about the Carnahan allegations themselves).
I spoke to Carnahan in May 2021 and he said he was thinking of running for a third term in 2022. A month later, the Demers lawsuit broke and there was no more talk of a Carnahan re-election campaign.
The current commissioners will consider the $60,000 Demers settlement at their meeting Tuesday. It’s on the consent agenda where most low-level lawsuit settlements go, so it’s likely all five commissioners are OK with it anyway.
What did we learn from all this? Well, I’m not accusing Carnahan of anything but is it too much to ask for politicians to be polite and respectful of others?
As a co-member of the male species, Carnahan’s behavior is embarrassing. His laughing off objectionable texts to a woman by saying his goofy buddies did it makes men look like heathen idiots.
Carnahan is now an ex-commissioner living in Georgia and the county may be fortunate this only cost a few thousand dollars (covered by insurance, according to the settlement agreement).
One good thing. After Tuesday it'll all be in the rearview mirror — where it belongs.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.