There has been a lot of discussion regarding Hinesville City Manager Kenneth Howard and the Fort Valley State University sex scandal incident.
In case you’ve been living in a cave somewhere, Howard faced charges of solicitation of sodomy and pandering for incidents that allegedly took place in 2017 and 2018 at Fort Valley State University.
Howard was offered a pretrial diversion agreement where he paid a $250 fine, took a course on the dangers of prostitution and did 20 hours of community service.
In return the Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney is not moving forward in prosecuting Howard or, as they say in laymen’s terms, the charges against him were dropped.
But that doesn’t mean that Howard is completely innocent. On the contrary, in my opinion, he took the plea agreement knowing it would be the best way of avoiding a possible conviction. Had the case gone to trial there may have been some damaging testimony regarding the alleged sexual encounter that would’ve further tainted his image and further jeopardized his career.
Some would argue that the alleged crime he committed was nothing serious - just a misdemeanor. It’s not like he embezzled money, robbed a bank or killed someone.
I’m willing to bet he has close family and relatives who think otherwise. This incident didn’t just hurt or disrupt his life. There were others hurt by this little misdemeanor.
The information contained in the actual indictment, for events that allegedly occurred sometime in October 2017, was extremely explicit and painted a picture of conduct unbecoming a city manager.
When you’re in a position of influence and authority, such as a city manager, you are expected to lead by example and be held to a higher level of morals and ethics. Things you do or say have consequences.
I understand that no one is perfect. We all have our flaws. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve made them in the past and might make many more in the future.
But it’s how you handle those mistakes that matter.
I have much more respect for folks who are at least willing to step up and say, “Hey I made a big mistake. I need to work on this and pledge to do so. This in no way has affected the work I’ve done in my professional career, but I know I need to do better and set a better example. I did something foolish and wrong and going through all this has embarrassed me and my family and it has taught me a valuable lesson.”
Instead we heard nothing directly from Howard, although he kept maintaining his innocence through his attorneys, except for new allegations of sexual harassment filed with the EEOC of events that also happened to take place in 2017 between April and June.
I can recall two occasions, where my editor asked me to cover DUI charges that were brought against two high profile people. These were two separate cases I covered years ago.
Both were folks I had talked to several times on different stories I covered. They had always been nice and forthcoming with me. I dreaded having to call them and report on the matter. On both occasions I anticipated them hanging up on me as soon as I addressed the reason for my call. Or at the very least asking me to call their attorneys.
Instead they answered my questions. They understood I was doing my job.
And more importantly they owned up to their mistakes.
They admitted they had a moment of poor judgement.
They acknowledged they had to do better. They understood they were in positions that demanded and expected more from them.
They paid the penalties for their actions. Not once did they claim to be innocent. They knew they did wrong. They knew they needed to right that wrong. And they weren’t afraid to step up and say and do the right thing.
And both continued on in their respective professions, and are still there.
In my opinion Mr. Howard should’ve stepped up and accepted some responsibility for the mess that he placed himself in.
At the very least that is something that the people of Hinesville deserve.
Link to Investigation Statement: Investigation Statements from Macon DA
Leon is general manager of the Coastal Courier and Bryan County News.