ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — Action News Jax’s Ben Becker is investigating explosive emails that expose a toxic government culture that includes the former St. Johns County Administrator being banned from its headquarters a day before he resigned because one commissioner feared for the safety of employees.
St. Johns County Commissioners are scheduled to meet Tuesday on whether they will accept the resignation of former County Administrator Hunter Conrad or fire him.
Conrad resigned under pressure on June 29 following a contentious commission meeting on June 20 where Commissioner Sarah Arnold raised concerns about workplace issues.
“I’m very worried about the workplace environment and culture that seems to be growing here amongst county staff,” Arnold said.
“[If] board members don’t like the direction that it’s going, I will gladly step aside,” said a defiant Conrad as he defended his record at the meeting.
In an Action News Jax Investigation, Becker obtained numerous emails from current and former county employees. One anonymous email from a former county worker said, “I found it increasing difficult to work under a man [Conrad] who ruled by fear & favorites.”
Former Economic Development Director Melissa Glasgow, who resigned in 2020 went even further.
“I will say that in my 30 years of award-winning professional experience in government and economic development throughout the country, I had never been treated as disrespectfully than I was after Hunter was appointed county administrator,” Glasgow said in an email to Becker. “Many other directors felt that way too. His management style was one of avoidance and misdirection, so nothing would be on record and tied back to him directly. The result was total chaos behind the scenes causing extreme staff stress and burnout.”
In addition, multiple sources tell Becker, Conrad had exhibited “troubling behavior” on June 28 ahead of a special meeting to decide his fate on June 30.
The county attorney sent an email to the head of facilities at the behest of Arnold, temporarily cutting off Conrad’s access to the Administration headquarters “due to serious concerns about employee safety that were conveyed to County Commissioners and the Office of County Attorney by employees of County Administration.”
Becker also tried to find out if Conrad’s resignation had anything to do with the possible mismanagement of millions of dollars by county government.
Emails show that in May 2022, someone in the administration was supposed to deliver a $2.4 million check to the St. Johns County Clerk & Comptroller’s office so that it could be deposited into an escrow account as part of a developer’s payment for the widening of State Road 16 at San Giacomo Road in front of the Grand Oaks development.
But from the emails, it was never accounted for and never deposited.
In February 2023, one worker in the administration wrote, “I don’t see it,” adding, “I need to find this as soon as possible.”
It’s unknown what happened to that check, but it was never cashed, and the developer did eventually send a new one.
St. Johns County Clerk of Court and Comptroller statement:
“Protecting and safeguarding taxpayer dollars is one of our highest priorities and greatest responsibilities. Upon becoming aware of a missing check on the morning of February 18, 2023, we immediately conducted an internal review to identify any discrepancies and determine the nature of any process failures. The comptroller’s office found it had no record of receiving the check and no other checks were missing.”
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It’s unclear if commissioners knew about this snafu before renewing Conrad’s contract in March, when he received a $30,000 raise to $248,000 per year.
Becker texted Conrad to ask him about his findings but never heard back.
Conrad, who replaced former County Administrator Michael Wanchick, had no prior experience as a county administrator after serving as the St. Johns County Clerk of Court and Comptroller from 2015 to 2019.