Did the director of Tipton County’s Central Dispatch discourage her employees from getting the COVID-19 vaccine and threaten pushback if they did?
Investigators said no.
The complaint was lodged in September as Tipton County Executive Jeff Huffman spoke to the board and asked them to investigate the claims.
Last month the E-911 board’s attorneys spoke with the staff members, three former dispatchers, and the chairman of the board as part of their investigation into the allegations.
“All but one individual said they hadn’t heard Director (Renee) Downing direct anyone not to receive the vaccine or suggest not getting the vaccine or taking retaliatory action,” said attorney Ted Yeiser at the board’s meeting on Monday, Nov. 1.
The 24-page report gives a summary of the responses from the 19 individuals interviewed. Most current employees said Downing didn’t say anything negative about the vaccines, they were told they were not mandatory, or that it was “all bull–” and she never told them not to get vaccinated.
The report does show Downing told investigators about several conversations she had with employees about the vaccines, their potential complications, her hesitancy to become vaccinated, and claims that microchips were being installed into those receiving the vaccines (which was shared through a video she showed several employees and the chairman, Jim Harger).
Yeiser identified longtime dispatcher Odessa Bernard, who has been employed with the department since 1989, as the person who made the complaint. They did so because she identified herself to several people during the course of the investigation and they did not believe she was attempting to maintain anonymity.
Bernard told Huffman, board members, and investigators she felt she and a now-former employee were discouraged from receiving the vaccine in the spring.
During one of the dates in which local churches were hosting clinics for the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Bernard told Downing and another employee her plans to receive it.
They had a discussion about vaccines and the role Christianity played in receiving them and Downing made it clear she had religious reasons not to.
According to the report, Bernard invited the now-former employee to accompany her, however Downing said the other employee could not leave “because vendors were making repairs to the radios and Former Employee A needed to be present while this repair work was underway.”
The report said Bernard believed Downing was attempting to prevent the employee from getting vaccinated.
“However, Ms. Bernard also reported that Director Downing, at some point during this discussion, said to Former Employee A words to the effect, ‘I can’t stop you from getting the shot,’” the report said.
The other employee did receive a vaccination after she was permitted to leave and told investigators she took an alternate route so Downing would not know, then lied about it the next day. This employee said she did so because she knew Downing would disapprove and if she knew it would have caused problems.
Further, Bernard told investigators after the federal government paused the use of that vaccine, Downing allegedly told her, “I bet you wish you had not gotten that shot.”
The investigators noted both Bernard and the former employee shared Downing’s remarks in their presence when Harger visited the offices and discussed his interest in the vaccine. Bernard was asked to share her experience with Harger while the former employee said Downing told him, “You better think twice about that,” before showing him a video about microchips believed to be associated with the shot.
The investigators determined overall Downing had not dissuade employees from getting vaccinated and the discussions about vaccines were isolated conversations.
The board planned to counsel Downing. She has since returned to work.
In the weeks since, Bernard has actually been suspended by interim director Glenda Brown. Brown alleges Bernard neglected her duties and risked officer and citizen safety.
She has been placed on paid administrative leave until the board’s personnel committee meets.
Bernard believes it to be retaliation for the vaccine complaint.