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Former county employee alleges ‘sweatshop’ conditions

Tia Lynn Ivey News

By Tia Lynn Ivey

A resigned Morgan County employee is leveling hefty allegations against County Manager Adam Mestres, accusing him of bullying, creating a hostile work environment, and treating county employees like they work in a “sweatshop in a third world country.” County Commissioners investigated Former Morgan County Animal Control Director Donna Prior’s claims and are sticking by Mestres, insisting none of Prior’s accusations hold any merit. 

Prior handed in her resignation at the end of December along with a scathing letter to county commissioners against Mestres. Prior details months of conflict between her and Mestres which came to a boiling point after Mestres went over her head to the Humane Society of Morgan County in an effort to partner with the non-profit organization and revamp the county’s animal control, against Prior’s wishes. 

“Adam held a private meeting with the humane society asking them to be primary partner for animal control…I have sixteen-plus years experience and knowledge regarding animal control, but Adam, with no experience regarding animal control—other than a box of bullets—wants to reinvent the wheel. My opinions are disregarded,” wrote Prior, who also accused Mestres of wanting to undo the progress Prior has overseen at animal control in the last 16 years, including a animal surgery program she started over a decade ago. 

Prior, who is also one of the founding members of Companion Animal Rescue, Inc. (CARI), wrote to commissioners that soon after Mestres was hired as the county manager that she requested a third party always be present for any conversations between them. 

“He bullies and interrogates county employees. Most people are afraid to make a big deal out of it because they are afraid of being fired,” wrote Prior. “It is a sad day in Morgan County when multiple commissioners have been informed by multiple employees of the hostile work environment created by the county manager—and yet, he continues to be in a position to bully the hard workers of this great county.”

Prior alleged that Mestres expressed his ideal version of animal control would be “a box of bullets,” an expression used to describe how animal control operated decades ago when strays dogs captured by animal control were shot in the head.  Prior, who has worked under three county managers, also alleged the conditions for employees under Mestres worsened significantly. 

“Working at Animal Control under the new county manager is like a sweatshop in a third world country—not enough employees and a lot of expected to be accomplished within a short amount of time each day. Everyone works for pennies, with no overtime allowed.”

The Morgan County Board of Commissioners released a joint statement concerning Prior’s allegations sent to them via e-mail after she resigned. 

“The e-mail contained a number of inflammatory comments toward the County Manager. After review, the Commission finds no evidence to support any negative allegations made toward County Manager Adam Mestres. The Commission unanimously supports Mr. Mestres in his role as Morgan County Manager,” stated the press release from County Commissioners Ron Milton, Donald Harris, Andy Ainslie, Philip Von Hanstein, and Ben Riden. “The Board of Commissioners and County Manager fully support a proactive animal services department and is actively recruiting a new director. The County will continue to work closely with all animal rescue partners. 

“The Commission wishes to thank Ms. Prior for her 16 years of service as an employee of this great county and wishes her the very best a she embarks on a new journey in her career,” added the county commissioners in the press release. 

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