Just three weeks after Beaufort County treasurer Maria Walls filed a bombshell lawsuit accusing auditor James “Jim” Beckert of stalking and abusive behavior, the county’s former CFO filed a separate lawsuit against Beckert with similar claims.
Alicia Holland, who resigned from her position in April, filed the lawsuit against Beaufort County and Beckert on Tuesday.
Mirroring Walls’ lawsuit, Holland also accuses Beaufort County of systemically protecting Beckert and his bully-like, abusive behavior toward not only her, but other county employees — particularly female employees.
“Holland was one of several of Beckert’s victims,” the lawsuit said. “Beckert has treated multiple female County employees in a condescending, derogatory, aggressive and bully-like manner. As a result, past and current employees work in constant fear of Beckert and his erratic, threatening behavior.”
In the lawsuit, Holland said she was harassed, defamed, assaulted, and intimidated by Beckert on Beaufort County government property.
Two weeks ago, sources close to the situation told FITSNews it was likely other victims would come forward following Walls’ lawsuit — which they say accurately reflects the good ole boy system’s treatment of female leaders. This treatment is said to continue even after the county hired its first female administrator Ashley Jacobs in 2019.
According to Holland’s lawsuit, Beckert’s behavior created a hostile and abusive working environment in Beaufort County government offices.
“In fact, multiple employees, including Holland, have resigned due to Beckert’s inappropriate, bully-like and abusive behavior,” the lawsuit said. “Beckert has been described as a bully, totalitarian and abusive, especially towards women.”
The current Beaufort County council consists of ten men and one woman. Sources close to the situation have told FITSNews that many male council members repeatedly failed to take the complaints against Beckert seriously — and this accusation is repeated in the lawsuit.
“Beaufort County acted with deliberate indifference as to the obvious consequences of failing to take action when it was notified, repeatedly by multiple women, of Beckert’s conduct,” the lawsuit said.
In South Carolina, county council members can vote to ask the governor to remove an elected official from office. In April, this happened in Barnwell County when the county council asked Henry McMaster to remove the treasurer from office for “dereliction of duties.” She resigned a day later.
Yet, in Beaufort County, nothing was done about Beckert’s inappropriate behavior even after several complaints to officials, according to both Walls and Holland’s lawsuits.
In fact, Holland’s lawsuit said Beaufort County developed a policy that ultimately enabled Beckert’s behavior.
Holland’s lawsuit claims that Beaufort County assessor Ebony Sanders was also harassed by Beckert. He accused Sanders, a black woman, of being racist toward white men via email, according to the lawsuit.
Jacobs — who can’t fire Beckert because he is an elected official — was aware of this accusation, the lawsuit said.
“(Former Beaufort County attorney) Chris Inglese expressed concern for the County’s liability given Beckert’s conduct – to which Ashley Jacobs responded with ‘the County may just need to carry that liability,'” the lawsuit said.
In the lawsuit, Holland claims that in February of this year, she drafted an email detailing Beckert’s inappropriate behavior, but was told by Jacobs not to pursue the matter.
“Not only was Beaufort County aware of Beckert’s conduct, it was also
instructing and/or encouraging employees to tolerate his behavior,” the lawsuit said.
In a statement to FITSNews, Jacobs denied these claims made against her.
“I never told Chris Inglese that ‘the County may just need to carry that liability,’ nor did I instruct Alicia Holland to tolerate Mr. Beckert’s behavior. Those are false statements,” Jacobs said. “I have worked diligently to protect my employees, and I have also been the subject of Mr. Beckert’s attacks and abuse, and experienced incredible stress from working with him.”
The accusations beg the question: Does Beaufort County — the richest county in South Carolina — have issues with female leadership? Or, at the very least, is it falling short of protecting its female leaders and other women in its employ from unwanted harassment?
Like Walls’ lawsuit, Holland meticulously describes Beckert’s hostile behavior toward her in different incidents from 2017 until her resignation in 2020.
In addition to his alleged bullying behavior, Holland said Beckert was incompetent in his job as auditor and did not understand “basic tax and mathematics principles” such as the difference between a tax year and a fiscal year.
Holland claims that Beckert was constantly questioning her work and believed her to be incorrect (see full details in lawsuit below).beckert
At one point in 2019, the county spent $10,000 of taxpayers’ money for an auditing firm to conduct a review of Holland’s financial reports in response to Beckert’s accusations.
Holland said that Beckert’s escalating behavior affected her physically and emotionally.
“Because of Beckert’s behavior, Holland underwent severe physical and mental stress,” the lawsuit said. “Holland visited the emergency room ten (10) times in 2018 – 2019 with heart attack-like symptoms.”
After reporting Beckert to county officials on multiple occasions and getting nowhere, Holland ultimately resigned and noted an intolerable work environment in her resignation letter in April, according to the lawsuit.
In a statement sent to FITSNews, Holland said “the decision to file this lawsuit was not taken lightly, but this behavior must stop.”
“The status of ‘elected official’ should not give anyone, including Jim Beckert, free reign to harass, bully, intimidate and threaten others,” the statement said.ALICIA-HOLLAND-STATEMENT-1
Sources told FITSNews that members of Beaufort County Council “seem to have trouble with women in leadership roles,” particularly taking issue with Jacobs.
Supporters of Jacobs say she has spent the past year cleaning up corruption, fixing a broken system and positioning the county toward greater accountability to taxpayers.
Her efforts, however, have resulted in relentless backlash from two longtime council members who are said to have been involved in several staff-involved schemes to push out Jacobs.
This news outlet touched on these stories in this piece published back in February.
It’s unclear whether S.C. governor Henry McMaster has been asked to intervene and remove Beckert from office, but sources say it is possible the county could ask him to do so.
The same attorneys who are representing Walls — Chelci Avant and Ronnie Crosby of Hampton, South Carolina — are representing Holland in the lawsuit.
This story will be updated…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an award-winning journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Want to contact Mandy? Send your story ideas, comments, suggestions and tips to [email protected].
WANNA SOUND OFF?
Got something you’d like to say in response to one of our stories? We have an open microphone policy! Submit your own letter to the editor (or guest column) via-email HERE. Got a tip for a story? CLICK HERE. Got a technical question or a glitch to report? CLICK HERE. Want to help support what we’re doing? SUBSCRIBE HERE.