Sep 29, 2021 - Politics

Polk County supervisors sued for extortion

Illustration of a catapult loaded with a stack of lawsuit papers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Polk County's former HR director Jim Nahas is accusing four of the county's five supervisors of extortion, libel and wrongful termination in a lawsuit made public in court records Tuesday.

Why it matters: Nahas isn't the first to allege in recent months that the highest ranks of the county's government are troubled with sexual harassment, threats and verbal abuse.

  • And his lawsuit, filed Monday, suggests the problems are more widespread.

Flashback: Nahas was fired in January over his handling of a sexual harassment allegation against Matt McCoy, the only supervisor not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

  • A female county employee said McCoy described her in sexually demoralizing terms during an October 2020 meeting that Nahas attended, according to a termination letter Axios obtained earlier this year
  • Nahas was evasive or dishonest on multiple occasions about what occurred in the meeting, county administrator John Norris wrote in the letter.

Of note: McCoy denied the harassment allegation to Axios in March.

What he's saying: Nahas said he doesn't recall McCoy making the vulgar comments.

  • He alleges in the lawsuit that an investigation into the matter was politically motivated to undermine McCoy, who Nahas had been assisting in trying to clean up Polk County governance.

Nahas also accused county supervisors of years of misconduct and cover-ups.

  • He said a supervisor allegedly sent an "inappropriate and suggestive Facebook message" to a county employee in 2017. Another supervisor then encouraged the employee to let the matter go, rather than investigate, Nahas alleges.
  • The lawsuit names Supervisor Tom Hockensmith, saying he intervened in a 2018 sexual harassment claim against an employee who's also his friend. Nahas claims Hockensmith told him that his job was on the line if the investigation didn't come out the right way.
  • Nahas also claims an employee reported in an exit interview last year that county supervisors regularly yelled profanities and used sexually demoralizing language. A subsequent recommendation from a labor relations manager to investigate the workplace was ignored.

The other side: The county denied the allegations to Axios. Norris said they're unable to comment further.

  • Hockensmith and Steve Van Oort told Axios Tuesday that they hadn't seen the lawsuit and couldn't immediately respond. Angela Connolly and Robert Brownell couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

What's next: Expect legal responses from the county in coming weeks.


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