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Newly minted Levy County Property Appraiser Oz Barker says he fired a veteran employee on his first day in office because he did not have confidence or trust in her, but two leaders in the Tri-County NAACP said he told them God directed him to do it.
And they think the reason is a little less divine — that Barker traded a promise to fire her in return for votes to help him win the office in the November election.
Barker denies he fired Mary Golding to help him win the race, will not discuss why, but he did seek legal counsel from an attorney specializing in labor issues.
Golding, who is not speaking publicly, has authorized the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, to speak for her.
Barker said in a telephone interview Tuesday, “She has been terminated because I felt it was in the best interest of the office. I didn’t have confidence in her.” He first offered a severance package and an opportunity to resign on Jan. 5, but when he did not hear from her by Friday, Jan. 9, she was terminated.
Barker does say the decision to fire her included, “it’s 20 years of knowing her and my knowledge of her and seeing things.”
Golding’s employment was an issue in the Appraiser’s race. Candidate Anthony Phillips, who lost in the Democratic primary, said publicly that if elected the first thing he would do is fire her.
NAACP officials and Barker acknowledge that Barker was asked by voters to fire her. Barker said several times on the campaign trail any decision would have to wait until he started work.
Golding’s critics in a whisper campaign — without providing any factual evidence — say she has used her position to acquire property before public tax sales, spends time running her two day care centers, doing her volunteer work, and has been seen sitting in court trials during appraiser’s business hours.
Her supporters say she is a success story, operating successful businesses and giving back to the community while also holding down a full-time job.
Al Carnegie, president of the local NAACP and owner of Carnegie Funeral Home in Chiefland, and the Rev. Donnell Sanders of St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Chiefland, a member of the group’s executive board, said Barker told them it was the worst thing he had to do.
Barker said Sanders had spoken to him, “calling as a personal friend,” and both Sanders and Carnegie later delivered a letter saying Golding authorized them to act on her behalf and a letter from a doctor stating Golding was a patient and unable to work for the next two months.
“She was fine on Day 1 when I came into work,” Barker said. “That was the day I was sworn in.”
County Judge Joseph Smith swore in Barker on Monday, Jan. 5 with the county’s other constitutional officers.
Carnegie and Sanders, said after the swearing in Barker called County Coordinator Freddie Moody into his office, then Golding and gave her the bad news.
Carnegie said, “She was told after he was sworn in she was no longer needed and she had 21 days to make a decision. “This was already planned,” Carnegie said.
Barker said he asked Moody to be present because it’s an appropriate, legal action to have a witness when releasing an employee.
The property appraiser said he spoke by telephone with an attorney who advises the county on labor issues before taking the action.
Carnegie said he received a call in early 2008 from a person who was in Cedar Key and she related a story that Barker was told that if he would fire Golding, the man would vote for Barker.
Carnegie said he asked Barker about the rumored conversation during a meal in the cafeteria at New Zion AME Church in Raleigh and again at a May meeting of the NAACP in the church.
“I confronted him and asked if he had promised to do what he was asked: ‘to get rid of the big black n***** first and then the others later’. ”
Barker says the story is untrue. “Never once did anybody out of Cedar Key, did anyone say that to me.”
“That word is profane to me,” said Barker. Carnegie said Barker denied promising a quid pro quo firing of Golding for votes.
“He fulfilled his promises he made,” Carnegie said. “After 28 years of service to the county and never been written up. She was fired with two years to retirement.” Carnegie says Barker also refused Golding’s request to allow her to stay until retirement.
Sanders said he mentioned the rumors of the firing during the campaign.
“Then he said a lot of people were African American who said that to him, that they wanted her fired,” Sanders said. “I said let’s not talk about race.”
“I said politics is a real beast and you never know who you can trust,” Sanders said. “I asked who advised him and he said ‘God did’ and I expressed to him that on serious personal decisions the Bible says to seek wise counsel and I quoted him some Scriptures on that.
“I asked him was that applicable and he said no.”
Barker said he did not say God told him to fire Golding. “Not in those words, no. I told him as I have said I seek guidance through prayer for my life and after seeking petition through prayer to the Lord I was at peace with the decision I had made.”
Barker said, “I have a peace with this. That’s how the Lord works in my life. I know that I have made the right decision.”
When Sanders asked again he said Barker said she wasn’t going in the direction that he wanted to take the office and he didn’t need her.
Carnegie and Sanders called Barker’s statement that African Americans were seeking the firing of a woman who has touched the lives of many in their community an insult.
“This is totally political and racial,” Sanders said. “The main thing that Oz has stressed is that he being directed by God to be doing what he’s doing. He should seek some counsel.”