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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Commission revisits nepotism discussion

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

By Charlene Sims, Journal staff

MOUND CITY – During a report from Linn County Health Department Director Amanda Snyder about employee evaluations during Monday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Jim Johnson took off on a tangent, renewing his concern about nepotism.

At the Oct. 2 meeting, Johnson once again brought up his concerns about Commissioner Jason Hightower and Economic Development Director Jessica Hightower being a married couple and how it affects county business.

Johnson said that when Public Works Director Shaun West evaluates Jessica Hightower, who is under his supervision, then Jason Hightower evaluates West.

County Counselor Gary Thompson said that, if the commission thought it was a problem, Jason Hightower could recuse himself from West’s evaluation process.

As he has done several times over the past two months, Johnson blamed Jason Hightower for putting the county in this predicament. He inferred that Jessica Hightower should have resigned when her husband was elected commissioner.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough told Johnson that the voters elected Jason Hightower.

Johnson said to McCullough not my voters or your voters just the voters in Jason Hightower’s district.

Johnson continued on with blaming the Hightowers for messing up the county business and employee flow chart. He pointed out that, before Jason’s election, Jessica Hightower was supervised by the commissioners.

Johnson blamed County Counselor Gary Thompson for recommending to the commission when it became obvious that Jason Hightower was going to be the next commissioner in District 1 that Jessica Hightower be put under the supervision of West. Jason Hightower replaced departing commissioner Rick James.

Johnson said this was done after the primary election. Jason Hightower said that it was done before the Aug. 2, 2022 election.

In a copy of Jessica Hightower’s contract received from the county clerk’s office, her salary, duties, and that West would be her supervisor were listed in the contract which was dated July 1, 2022. The contract was formally approved Aug. 29, following the August election.

Johnson, who was chair of the commission at that time, made the motion to approve her contract. It passed unanimously.

In the Aug. 31 meeting, Johnson had said that Jason put the county in a difficult position because he (Johnson) and McCullough are at odds on everything. He said they shouldn’t be in this situation.

At the meeting, Johnson told Jason Hightower, “I did not do what you did to me. You did it to the whole county by doing what you did.” He was apparently referring to Jason Hightower running for office

At Monday’s meeting, McCullough asked if Johnson had a solution for his concern.

Johnson said that if the commission had left it the way it was, Jessica Hightower couldn’t work for the county.

County Counselor Gary Thompson told Johnson that the commission could put her back the way it was.

Johnson said, “It can’t work then.”

“But you said it should have been left that way,” said Thompson.

“We cannot have that is what I am saying, so it could not have worked, she could not have worked for us,” said Johnson.

“But she already was working for us, Jim. I think what you are saying is when Jason got elected, Jessica should have been fired,” said Thompson.

“No,” said Johnson.

“I don’t see what other option you are talking about,” said Thompson.

“She can’t work for us, she would have had to resign,” said Johnson.

“That’s just semantics. To tell her she has to resign is the same thing as firing her in my opinion,” said Thompson.

When McCullough asked Johnson what he wanted to do about this concern, Johnson told him, “You’re the chairman, Danny.”

After the nearly 10 minute discussion, McCullough tabled the subject until more research was done.

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