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Council meeting gets testy
Diana Reid
Hinesville Councilmember Diana Reid

There was a heated exchange between District 1Councilwoman Diana Reid and Hinesville City Manager Kenneth Howard at the council meeting held Oct. 17 at City Hall.

Reid expressed anger and frustration, saying she hadn’t been properly informed about EEOC complaints brought forth against Howard, city employees Holly Fields and Neisha Williams and council woman Vicky Nelson.

“As you know the city of Hinesville has received an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint,” Howard said. “This complaint is a charge of employment discrimination and it indicates that it has been filed with the EEOC and we deny the allegations and look forward to responding accordingly.”

Howard asked city attorney Linnie Darden to outline what happens next in the process.

But prior to Darden’s explanation, Reid spoke up and questioned Howard about when and how the other council members were notified about the complaint.

“Because this is the first I’ve heard about it,” she said. “I mean I heard it on the the street and then I read it in the paper, which is unacceptable. Is it normal procedure for us to hear it on the street or read about it in the paper?”

Howard said he was made aware of the complaint Oct. 11, at which time he contacted the other council members to let them know. 

He said he didn’t call Reid because he was told that she already knew.

“You were told that but did you call me to check and see,” Reid asked. Howard admitted that he did not.

Reid later asked Darden if it was normal procedure for all council members to be notified by phone once a complaint of this nature was received. 

“I think it would be normal that you would have received notice when it occurred,” Darden said. 

Darden said he couldn’t speak on behalf of the city manager but was under the impression that Howard had notified all the council members.

Darden said he was only asked to talk about the process, not the particulars of the case. He said the city has 30 days to respond to the allegations. 

“The complaint is against individuals but it is a complaint that the city will have to respond to and I will be responding to the complaint as the city attorney,” he said.

Darden said they will begin the process of interviewing pertinent individuals.  

The complaint filed by city employee Danyell Barboa alleges Howard made sexual advances toward her on several occasions from April 2017 to June 2017. 

Howard denies the allegations. 

Barboa alleges that on one occasion in June 2017, Howard cornered her in her office and attempted to pull her close and even kiss her. 

Barboa said that she, Williams and Howard met on June 14, 2017 to discuss the allegations and the rumors that Howard was telling others that it was Barboa who made the advances toward him.

“Howard admitted that he was in fact the one who made the advances toward me,” Barboa said in her statement.

Barboa said it was then that Williams said the meeting should be documented. Barboa said she saw Williams hand a document to Howard and file a copy in a file cabinet.

However, the city has yet to produce any documents regarding that meeting after the Courier filed an open records request. The city said Barboa made an informal complaint and that, “all parties involved met and verbally solved the issue/concerns.”

Alyssa McDuffie, an intern during the time the incidents allegedly took place, corroborated several of Barboa’s allegations in a signed affidavit. Barboa’s husband, Fort Stewart soldier James Barboa, said he confronted Howard moments prior to the June 14, 2017 meeting and that Howard admitted he was the one making the advances and that it would stop, the complainant stated. 

Barboa said she was the victim of constant retaliation from Fields and Howard up until July 19, 2019 when she said she was abruptly transferred from her position as a human resources administrator to a new position as a Homeless Prevention Program administrator. She said they made it seem at first as if she was being fired.

Barboa alleges Nelson was involved in the retaliation, trying to convince her not to file any complaints. She called Nelson a bully and said Nelson abuses her power of office.

Williams, Fields and Nelson have denied Barboa’s claims. 

In the meantime, Howard is one of seven men indicted in April in Macon as a result of a prostitution sting in Fort Valley. Howard is charged with solicitation of sodomy and two counts of pandering stemming from conduct alleged to have occurred in 2017 and 2018. Howard turned himself in Oct. 23, 2018. Howard later bonded out at $3,500.

One defendant in the case has already pleaded guilty to one count of pandering and was sentenced to 12 months probation and a $1,000 fine. 

The city has stood behind the city manager since charges were filed. 

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