‘Toxic workplace’ leaves Stark SWCD with no staff

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SALEM, Ohio — The Stark Soil and Water Conservation District is supposed to have a director and at least six permanent employees.

As of April 22, it has none. The government agency’s website lists only an interim director. Former district workers say a toxic work environment marked by harassment and retaliation fostered by former district director John Weedon drove them away.

Weedon resigned in March under a cloud of accusations. His former subordinates say he gave workers overwhelming workloads and lashed out at anyone who reported his behavior.

Adrienne Bock, an outreach technician for the district who quit last year, said Weedon treated her like a receptionist and assigned tasks to her that should have been his responsibility. The workload eventually became too big for the part-time hours she was supposed to be working, Bock said.

Some of her former co-workers at Stark County Soil and Water also described an atmosphere of intimidation to the Canton Repository, which broke news of the mass staff exodus on April 17. Two other former employees declined to comment on the record, but agreed that Weedon created a toxic atmosphere and said the district board of supervisors did not do enough to address the problem. They said more than a dozen people quit over the course of about six years, and the departures accelerated last fall.

Response

Assistant Stark County Prosecutor Jerry Yost, who is overseeing the efforts to restaff the district, said former workers described harassment by Weedon in exit interviews.

In a brief phone interview, the former director categorically denied creating a toxic work environment or retaliating against anyone. Weedon said “there are two sides to every story,” and chastised his former co-workers for going to the press.

“Unfortunately, this has become part of the public discourse when the issue is between us, not with the public,” he said.

Weedon, who had been with the district for about eight years, said he resigned last month because “I realized my partnership with the board was no longer effective so I offered to move on.”

The former director said he offered to stay on until a new director was hired, but the board told him his resignation would be effective immediately.

Yost said he told the board not to keep Weedon on staff during the search for a replacement.

“There’s an employment rule of thumb, if you have a disgruntled employee, you don’t want to leave him in a position where he can sabotage things,” he said.

What happened? Several employees resigned in the fall of last year. Two more quit in the early spring. The remaining workers, some of whom were replacement hires, left in March, Yost said.

Bock left in the fall and said her departure was precipitated by the board of supervisors’ inaction. The board did nothing after she and other employees presented it with their concerns, she said. In a move that Bock finds suspicious, the board then changed district policy, barring workers from talking to the press without permission and requiring all grievances to first be filed with Weedon.

Board chair Ann Wolfe did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Yost acknowledged that he only recently became involved in the affair, but defended the board’s response.

“The board was in process (of disciplining Weedon),” he said. “Sometimes employees don’t realize employers need to dot their Is and cross their Ts.”

The board had two pending disciplinary write-ups against Weedon for storing a bottle of tequila in his office and keeping a document involving other employees on a work drive that his subordinates had access to. The governing body scheduled a meeting with Weedon for March 18, but the former director handed in his resignation first, Yost said.

Weedon said keeping the tequila bottle in his desk was “a mistake,” but said he never drank on the job.

Giving away the Game Plan

In an unusual move, Weedon recorded his plan to push employees out the door in a detailed document he labeled a “Game Plan,” which he left in a digital drive that other soil and water district employees had access to, giving his subordinates a strikingly detailed account of his strategy.

The document, which was provided to Farm and Dairy, outlines plans to convince some employees to side with him, and make life so miserable for others that they have no choice but to quit. One employee was to be reprimanded until he “snapped,” the document said.

“Have them turn on each other,” the document reads. “Keep them so busy they don’t have time or energy to support each other.”

Weedon also wrote that he wanted to try to place someone sympathetic to him on the board of supervisors.

In an interview, the former director downplayed the Game Plan’s importance, calling it a series of memos on dealing with “difficult employees.” Weedon said the Game Plan was kept in a folder meant for his documents, and accused his subordinates of “snooping.”

Now what?

In the meantime, the soil and water districts in two nearby counties, Summit and Cuyahoga, along with an environmental services company, have divvied up Stark County’s responsibilities, Yost said.

The county hasn’t hired a headhunting firm yet, Yost said, relying instead on job boards.

In the meantime, he says he hopes coverage of the Stark County agency’s problems don’t discourage people from applying.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Normal public sector entity. If it were private it would’ve failed. Meanwhile they use your hard-working money to keep these underqualified, nepotism favoring people employed In their management positions.

  2. Wow, so glad that small government agencies are finally being monitored. Yes, there are two sides to every story, now take all facts and information from this to make good choices for this department.

  3. So, I live near Canton, NC. I see this article has reached me due to Canton, OH, also existing. I have no frame of reference on this matter. But it sounds like Weedon is full of it and the employees under him rightfully left. I’m not sure what’s happening in Salem Ohio, but get it together!😂

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