Jess Bradfield’s arrival as the new Cache County clerk and auditor last fall has led to the resignations of four out of six longtime female employees in the clerk’s office, including one who gained a $97,000 out-of-court separation settlement, The Herald Journal has learned.
Bradfield was elected in a special session of Cache County Republicans on Sept. 19 following the departure of fellow Republican Jill Zollinger, who stepped down before the end of her fifth four-year term in office. Bradfield won out over two of Zollinger’s employees, Chief Deputy Auditor Diana Schaeffer and Chief Deputy Clerk Kim Gardner, and it was Gardner who won the separation payout roughly two months after Bradfield’s arrival.
Three other veteran employees eventually followed her out the door, though without any additional compensation or strings attached.
Citing legal concerns, neither Bradfield nor any other county officials would comment on what led to the Gardner settlement, but the document was made public, and Cache County Council Chairwoman Gina Worthen on Tuesday offered this written statement on why she supported the deal and voted for the expenditure in the county budget:
“While Cache County typically doesn’t settle lawsuits, in this case, the county felt it was warranted. In considering the expenditure of county resources — both excessive costs of litigation and the human capital of time and energy devoted to the case — and in considering the desire to resolve this conflict without a long, drawn-out litigation process and the desire to be fair to a long-time employee and a newly elected official, it became apparent that settlement was the best route to let all parties move on and let the county focus on county business.”
Gardner, who worked for 26 years in the county clerk’s office, the last 19 as chief deputy, was initially reluctant to be interviewed about her resignation but did agree to answer several questions in writing and confirmed she had refused to go along with a proposed confidentiality clause in the settlement.
Asked if the county acknowledged wrongdoing in the situation, Gardner responded, “The county paid the settlement. That speaks for itself.”
Gardner claimed Bradfield courted conflict with her on the first day he arrived in the office.
“Within just a few hours, I was falsely accused of being uncooperative and threatened with a demotion,” she wrote. “On the second day I spent no more than one hour with Mr. Bradfield. On the morning of the third day I was presented with formal accusations of wrongdoing. Those charges were fully investigated and found to be entirely untrue. The charges were complete lies and fabrications, and I am still shocked that the county executive, county attorney and human resource director would allow such a hostile and hurtful attack on me without any evidence or corroboration. I felt that I was targeted from the beginning.”
Although most government personnel records are closed to the public, records of completed disciplinary action against employees are obtainable under state law. In response to an official open-records request from The Herald Journal, the Cache County Attorney’s Office reported there was no recent disciplinary action against Gardner.
More than one employee present for the post-election transition in the clerk’s office said the conflict between the two Republican special-election candidates was not entirely Bradfield’s doing. They noted Gardner had been upset and vocal about irregularities during the special election, and they claimed this put her on a “warpath” that carried over into the workplace.
“It was very awkward and tense,” said Mallory Bybee, a part-time temporary worker who left the clerk’s office in February to have a baby. “Kim had this big bouquet of flowers that said ‘Vote for Kim’ and left them on the little island in the clerk’s office that customers come up to, very much so Jess would see it when he got there. As I was walking back to the clerk’s office from a separate room that I was in, Jess was being shown around. I saw Jess go in there, and when Kim saw him, she got up and walked right out. She did not want anything to do with him or to be anywhere around him at all.”
Bybee said Gardner, as second-in-command in the Zollinger era, was notoriously difficult for employees to work with and known to be tyrannical. But Bybee also had strong criticism for Bradfield after seeing how he handled employees and operations after taking over.
“He’s a very sexist, small-minded person that I feel is wasting the county’s money on unnecessary vanity projects. … Basically, we traded out the mean girl that’s been ruling the high school for the last four years for her little sister,” Bybee said.
In her written statement, Gardner insisted she was ready and willing to work with Bradfield.
“I had spent many years in that office and fully intended to finish my career there. I felt that I could provide a valuable service to the county. Unfortunately, the new clerk and the county didn’t want to work with me. My experience with Mr. Bradfield was an unfortunate situation that didn’t need to happen,” she wrote.
Gardner wasn’t the only local Republican upset by the way the party balloting was conducted. During the counting of ballots, it was discovered that the totals included four more votes than the number of people credentialed at the door that day. However, since Bradfield held a majority well above the four questionable votes — enough to avoid a second round of balloting — Cache County Republican officials declared him the winner. The final tally reported by the party had Bradfield with 105 votes, Gardner with 55 and Schaeffer with 9.
Bradfield campaigned for the post on the pledge he would update and modernize clerk functions — including transitioning to a paperless operation — and not long after taking over, he began an office remodeling project and staff reorganization aimed at achieving his goals. The moves included cutting hours of three longtime permanent part-timers and covering some of their previous duties with temporary workers. The part-time workers were also shifted from set schedules to rotating days.
All three ended up resigning.
One of the three was Janet Lott, who worked elections for the clerk’s office for more than two decades and held a permanent part-time position the past three years. She came to see this and other moves by Bradfield as an effort to force her and her colleagues to resign.
“He started hiring all these temps and then cutting all of our hours. One of the most knowledgeable people in the county he cut down to eight hours a week and then hired three temps. That doesn’t make sense, because we weren’t making that much money,” Lott said, adding that the rotating schedule added an additional burden because it made it more difficult to arrange other part-time work to make up for the eliminated hours.
“I felt like he was going to continue to cut hours until we weren’t working there, so I just stepped aside so he could find what he wanted,” she said.
Exacerbating the situation was a statement Bradfield made about his “aging” staff during a December Cache County Council meeting where he sought payroll and workforce adjustments. Lott and others considered his words patently discriminatory. Bradfield has declined comment on any employee accusations, but following is the statement to the council in full:
“We have an aging workforce, and I need to be able to say, I have my excellent employees who are here with the knowledge and the historical knowledge that we need, and then I also need to be able to say we need to have people that we can train and that in a number of years when those individuals retire that we have the people capable to take their place.”
He went on to express his position on part-time employees:
“The other thing is, we don’t have full-time staff, and I’m relying on people who are part-time in my office to get the job done, and part-time is a tricky thing that’s dependent on this agreement that we want you to come here and they want to come, but at any time they could say, ‘Hey, I’m done being part-time. I either want a full-time position elsewhere or I don’t need this position anymore.’ And so that’s a tricky position where if that’s who you are relying on, and those are the only individuals trained, then if they leave you have a complete brain drain, is what I call it. And in the county we can’t afford to have that.”
Lott said when the aging remark came up later in a staff meeting, Bradfield told employees he never wanted to hear them talking about it again. A similar request was made of Lott during her last encounter with the new county clerk.
“In my exit interview, he pulled me in and he told me we had to leave as friends, so if anybody ever asked me, it was all on friendly terms,” she said.
In addition to the four veteran employees’ resignations, a number of other temporary workers quit after the November election over what Bradfield told the County Council stemmed from his effort to eliminate nepotism that existed in the office under his predecessor. The Herald Journal was able to confirm at least three employees working during the general election were related to others in the office.
Bradfield replaced Gardner with an employee from the Utah County Clerk’s Office. Gardner had an annual base salary of $52,000, while her successor, Justin Anderson, was hired at higher rate of $60,300 annually. He has a slightly different title — “chief deputy clerk for elections” as opposed to simply “chief deputy clerk.”
The hiring of Anderson and another male employee from Utah County, along with the alleged forcing out of older female employees, was seen by Bybee as part of a larger pattern of sexual, racial and age discrimination by Bradfield.
“He would talk about women with passive-aggressive statements like, ‘If I had more guys here I could get things done quicker,’ because he needed objects moved that were heavy,” Bybee said. “Well, I was heavily pregnant so I couldn’t move anything, and the other ladies were older, so they couldn’t move anything.”
Bybee, who said her father is white and her mother is black, suggested a comment made by Bradfield and directed at her bordered on racism.
“To top it all off, he made one remark about how he was going to get me a signed poster from Donald Trump saying ‘Thanks for your vote, Mallory’ and put in the main area of the clerk’s office,” Bybee said. “I say that because I was the only minority in the office, and I never talked about politics with anybody there, about who I would vote for or anything. So him saying something like that to me was also kind of racist. Why are you assuming I didn’t vote for Trump? What are you basing this on, because you have two things to base it on, either my race or my gender. Either way that’s not OK, dude.”
In its signed settlement with Gardner, the county acknowledged no wrongdoing or liability, and Gardner waived the right to future legal action against the county over the separation, including any claim of age discrimination. Among other things, the agreement also restricts Gardner from applying for future work in the clerk’s office, though not other county positions. She is not prohibited from seeking election as clerk, but she told The Herald Journal she has no plans to run again.
The settlement payments are split into three portions: $79,000 to be used by Gardner toward purchase of four years of service credit with the Utah Retirement System; $12,290 matching the value of the employee’s accrued and unused paid leave time; and $5,716 for payment of her attorney’s fees.
Another stipulation in the settlement required the county to host an hourlong retirement party for Gardner at its Main Street building in Logan.