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County worker resigns amid controversy

A manager in Hillsborough County's human resources department resigned under duress Thursday, a week after writing a critical letter to commissioners accusing them of poor treatment of her boss.

The resignation of Pat Newcomer, manager of employee services, came the same day she refused to shake the hand of commission chairman Tom Scott during an employee awards luncheon.

Newcomer had recently become embroiled in hostilities from commissioners who have lashed out at the administration about its handling of two racial discrimination lawsuits.

She was initially the subject of one of those lawsuits, in which a federal court found in favor of a former human resources employee who claimed discrimination under Newcomer.

Newcomer worked 32 years with the county. Her resignation was effective immediately.

"Pat Newcomer has resigned and has cleaned out her office and is gone," said County Administrator Dan Kleman, refusing to speak further about the matter.

In her March 6 letter addressed to Scott and Commissioner Ronda Storms, Newcomer expressed surprise that they blocked a proposed reorganization of some county departments. The plan called for shifting Newcomer's department and her boss, human resources director Sharon Wall, under Kleman's direct supervision.

Scott and Storms said they felt this was a promotion and asked that the reorganization be postponed until they could learn more about the recent jury verdict against the county involving human resources. In the lawsuit, former human resources employee Gloria Peniel made a variety of racial discrimination claims.

A jury sided with her on one _ that she received a poor evaluation as retaliation for past confrontations with Wall and Newcomer _ and awarded her about $6,400.

In the letter, Newcomer described the suit as baseless and criticized the commissioners for putting her department and boss in a bad light."

"It is very demoralizing to me and the other HR staff that you not only fail to recognize our accomplishments, you denigrate us to your peers and the public," Newcomer said.

Then, at an employee awards luncheon Thursday, Scott was working the room, shaking hands. When he approached Newcomer, whom he said he didn't know, Scott said she withdrew her hands as others looked on. Scott said she wiped her hands, "mumbled something" and left the room.

Scott said he brought the encounter to Kleman's attention. Soon Newcomer was back in the room apologizing.

"I told Dan that I'm a county commissioner, and I don't deserve that type of disrespect," Scott said. "She said, "I just want to apologize for not being as gracious as I should have been.' But the motive wasn't pure."

The snub came the day after another tense county meeting during which commissioners again blasted the administration for another racial discrimination claim filed by a solid waste department employee that they voted to settle for $130,000.

The back-to-back flaps have put Kleman in the cross hairs of commissioners two years after he nearly lost his job when they criticized him for not following their policy directions and failing to keep on top of festering problems. Those criticisms have resurfaced in the past week.

"Dan is evaluated every year, and he's got some serious issues he needs to address," Scott said. "We can only hold him accountable."