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Former Gadsden County Administrator files civil rights lawsuit

Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 5:53 PM EDT
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GADSDEN COUNTY, Fla (WCTV) - A former Gadsden County administrator has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Gadsden County Commission and its chair, Brenda Holt.

Derrick Elias claims he was pressured to fire white employees and when he refused, commissioners improperly voted to hire someone else instead.

Federal court records show the lawsuit was filed April 9, 2021 and shows commissioners were served with the lawsuit earlier this month.

“At this time, I do not have any comment on the claims Mr. Elias is making,” Commissioner Brenda Holt said in a statement to WCTV this week. “We are addressing the claims through the legal process and, while we may disagree with Mr. Elias’ position, he is permitted to raise those issues he feels should be addressed.”

The federal lawsuit seeks in excess of $75,000 in damages.

Elias’s lawsuit says he applied for the Gadsden County Administrator’s job in March 2020. The Gadsden County Commission voted 4 to 1 in September 2020 to appoint Elias as county administrator, with Holt the only no vote.

Elias says in the weeks following that decision the Gadsden County Commission did not send him a proposed contract or arrange any negotiations for the job. Elias claims he was summoned for a meeting with Chairperson Brenda Holt instead.

Court records say Holt asked Elias to hire Edward Dixon as assistant county administrator and then “identified various, current department heads for the County as individuals who needed to be terminated by Plaintiff as County Administrator.”

The lawsuit goes on to say when Elias refused, “Holt became increasingly frustrated and responded that she needed Mr. Dixon as part of the County Administrator team because “[he] has to be up here to get things done.” She expanded on this statement by telling Plaintiff that “we need to take this County back” and that “these crackers have to go.” Plaintiff took this statement to mean Defendant Holt wanted to remove Caucasian employees from the County and that Mr. Dixon would assist with this goal,” attorney Matthew MacNamara said in the federal lawsuit.

“Plaintiff again refused Defendant Holt’s requests to hire Mr. Dixon, to terminate the department heads she identified, and to make personnel decisions as County Administrator in a racially motivated way. Defendant Holt responded that Plaintiff “may not get a contract” based on these refusals,” the suit claims.

The lawsuit says in November, Gadsden County Commissioners voted to terminate Elias as County Administrator and hire Edward Dixon instead, without proper notice.

“Mr. Elias is understandably saddened that the County and Ms. Holt devised a plan behind closed doors to remove him from a position where he would have improved the everyday lives of all the residents of Gadsden County,” MacNamara said in a statement to WCTV. “We look forward to our day in court to hold the Defendants responsible for violating his Constitutional Rights and to help ensure that this never happens again to any other public servant.”

An attorney for the Gadsden County Commission and its chair Brenda Holt filed a response to the claims last week, calling Elias’s lawsuit “frivolous” and “without merit.”

The 10-page answer to the lawsuit includes dozens of denials including denying Elias’s claims that the Commission Chair pressured him to fire white employees or that he was improperly fired.

The Gadsden County Commission’s lawyer Jason Taylor contends a county employee clearly communicated “that the GCBOCC had budgeted a maximum amount of $127,500.00” for the administrator’s position and contends that an inability to come to terms on a contract and salary are the reason Elias was replaced.

“Defendants’ actions towards Plaintiff are solely the result of Plaintiff’s rejection of the terms and conditions offered to Plaintiff by GCBOCC. Given the repeated extension of this offer, no further action towards Plaintiff was necessary or practical and Plaintiff suffered no damages as a result of GCBOCC’s reliance on Plaintiff’s actions,” Taylor wrote in his response.

Federal court records do not show any upcoming court dates.

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