The Glen Rose City Council voted by a 4-1 margin during a special meeting Monday evening to relieve Rhonda Hawthorne of her duties as office manager at city-owned Oakdale Park.
The vote followed a discussion by council members about what action should be taken in light of comments made by Hawthorne in a video that has been making the rounds on social media outlets in which the "N-word" was allegedly used.
Council member Chris Bryant’s motion to “dismiss, terminate, Mrs. Hawthorne for racial conduct and inappropriate behavior” was seconded by Julia Douglas. Fellow council members Jack Johnson and Richard Vaughn joined Bryant and Douglas in voting for the termination. The lone vote against the termination was cast by Johnny Martin.
The termination was effective immediately.
Hawthorne had been a member of the City Council after running, unopposed, in the May 2019 election. She resigned in August to take the office manager job at Oakdale Park because, under Texas municipal law, she could not hold dual positions with the city.
The council voted, 3-1, to appoint Vaughn to fill the vacancy left by Hawthorne’s resignation at that time. Vaughn was sworn in on Aug. 20.
The controversial video was shot with a cell phone camera several months ago at Oakdale Park, by Hawthorne’s direct supervisor at the time, Chip Joslin, who was manager of the park. Joslin had also been dismissed by the council from his Oakdale Park job recently after he was accused of inappropriate public affection with his girlfriend while working at this year’s chili cookoff at Oakdale, paired with a complaint that he did not work all of the hours he claimed on his time card. In defending himself before the council at that time, Joslin argued that he was a salaried employee, not tied to an hourly rate.
Joslin, who filed as a candidate for City Council shortly after his dismissal, told the Glen Rose Reporter that he had used his cell phone to record the video with the intent of creating a training video.
Hawthorne was contacted by phone the day after the special meeting and told the Glen Rose Reporter that she did not know that she was being recorded when she said the “N-word.”
“No. I saw the phone, but I had no idea he was videoing me,” said Hawthorne, a former downtown Glen Rose business owner. “I would have never said that if I had known.”
Hawthorne said that since Joslin was her direct supervisor at the time, “he should have reprimanded me then and there.”
In response that that, Joslin later told the newspaper, “Clearly she knew that she was being recorded.” When asked if the cell phone he used was hidden or visible to Hawthorne while he was recording Hawthorne, Joslin stated, “It was absolutely visible,” and he added that he said to her that it was being made as a training video.
When asked what reaction she had when the termination vote was done, Hawthorne said, “I was very surprised. I was very disappointed. I thought that I was wrongfully terminated, in the fact that this (video) was taken in September (2019), by my immediate supervisor. We didn’t hear what he had to say before he started recorded, and that was my response. Never did I think this video between Mr. Joslin and I would ever surface, especially on social media.”
Hawthorne added, “I never received a warning, a written warning, in my work file. I never was reprimanded for this. I was only praised and had an outstanding review in December 2019 by my supervisor, Mr. Joslin.”
When reached the following day by phone for his response to Hawthorn’s statement to the newspaper, Joslin said, “It’s never a good situation when someone loses their job.”
In reference to running for a spot on the council, Joslin said, “I hope to be a part of bringing free speech and due process back to Glen Rose, Texas.”
City Administrator Michael Leamons addressed the council members from the podium about the matter, arguing that he believed that what Hawthorne said in the video was inappropriate, but not racist.
“For more than 20 years I’ve exercised hiring and firing authority over employees,” said Leamons, who himself had been Oakdale Park manager before taking the city administrator position in August of 2018 after the controversial departure of Chester Nolen from that job. “I’ve terminated those who I believed to be a detriment to the team, and have defended those who have gotten into trouble, but who I believed to be an asset to the team. The Oakdale Park office manager falls into the latter category.
“She made a mistake. She admits it. She has apologized for it. She has been warned if she does it again, there will be serious consequences. She promises not to do it again.”
In explaining to the council — and the large crowd of residents gathered in the City Hall meeting — why he would not use his authority to fire Hawthorne, Leamons used an example from the Bible to illustrate his position.
“Jesus said, ‘Let the one without sin cast the first stone’” Leamons said, adding, “Due to our ordinances, policies and my employment contract, the office manager’s fate rightfully belongs in my hands. I can’t bring myself to cast the first stone. Why? Because I’ve done worse. But thank God someone didn’t make a video and broadcast it to the world. I suspect all of you, both in the audience and on the council, have done worse things than use a socially unacceptable word in a careless way, in a private conversation. Haven’t you?”
In the wake of the departures of both Joslin and Hawthorne, Leamons later said that he will continue to divide his responsibilities between being city administrator and overseeing Oakdale Park, at least for now. He noted that with the sale of Oakdale Park still a possibility, along with the travel slowdown currently caused by coronavirus concerns, “We’re probably not going to be hiring at this point.”
In order to have someone in the on-site office manager position, Leamons said that one of the other employees will have to be promoted.