Allegations of blatant and heartless racism against a Hernando County Utilities Department employee must be a top priority for Administrator David Hamilton and Sheriff Richard Nugent. The longer this unsettling accusation remains unresolved, the more it threatens to damage the reputation of the entire county, not just county government.
Three employees were placed on paid administrative leave Friday after Hamilton became aware of allegations that they mistreated co-workers Jason Booker and Floyd Moore, both of whom are black. Those disclosures included racial insults, intimidating horseplay with a noose, and dirt being dumped on one man who was working in a hole.
After Booker complained to family members, his grandmother, Jeanette Soto, who recently retired after 23 years as a county employee, notified Human Resources director Barbara Dupre, who began an investigation. The time line about when and how that inquiry was handled is an important aspect of this investigation and discrepancies should not be overlooked.
In a place whose history is steeped in racism — the Hernando County seat, Brooksville, is named after a militant, antebellum pro-slavery congressman — such conduct is particularly disturbing. For many, African-Americans, the wounds of institutional discrimination are still painful. Claims like these create new hurt and hold up our community to widespread ridicule.
Hamilton and Nugent must be thorough in their investigations and decisive in their responses. If the accusations are unproven, then Booker and his family will answer for creating a mean-spirited scandal. But if Booker's version of events is accurate, then terminations and prosecution are in order. It is the only way to send an unmistakable message that government has absolutely no tolerance for racial hatred.