William Winn, a 32-year Beaufort County employee best known for his expertise in hurricane response, has resigned amid allegations he made discriminatory comments to a job candidate.
Easing Winn out was one of the toughest decisions he's ever made, county administrator Gary Kubic said Tuesday.
Winn, the director of public safety, is accused of making the offensive comments during a discussion with a candidate being considered for county building codes director. That position had been vacated by retiring building codes director Arthur Cummings, Kubic said.
Three current county employees were identified as candidates for the job. Winn approached one of them in mid-July to gauge his interest, and the candidate perceived some of his comments as "discriminatory in nature," Kubic said.
Kubic described Winn's statements as inappropriate "ethnic" comments, but said they were not racist, sexist or sexual, nor did he think they were said maliciously.
The complainant is a male and is not black, Kubic said. He has not filed a lawsuit against the county.
Winn declined to speak specifically to the accusation.
"I came into the county in '79 quietly, and I'm going to leave in 2011 quietly," he said.
Kubic said after the employee came forward, he brought in an outside attorney who interviewed several people with knowledge of the incident.
Winn was removed from his position Aug. 1 and no longer supervises the employee. His salary has also been reduced, Kubic said, though exact figures were not available Tuesday.
However, Winn will remain at the county through Dec. 31 to finish ongoing projects, and he will still lead emergency response if the county is hit by a hurricane this season.
Before he was promoted to lead the Public Safety Division, Winn directed the county's emergency management department. Winn also had oversight of the county's Emergency Medical Services operation.
Kubic said Winn's background weighed heavily on his decision to keep him on staff through the end of the year.
Three county councilmen reached Tuesday -- Steve Baer, Rick Caporale and Brian Flewelling -- said officials were briefed about the situation but not told specifically what comments Winn made. Because personnel matters are among Kubic's responsibilities, they said, no one asked.
"None of us probed any deeper," Baer said. "We leave that to Mr. Kubic."
The councilmen said they appreciate Winn's service and were surprised by the allegation.
"He will be missed," Caporale said. "In my dealings with him, he's really been the ultimate gentleman -- always meek and mild."
Kubic said he also has a "great deal of respect" for Winn's contributions to the community.
"I have two good people that I think are involved in a sad series of events," he said. "It is probably one of the worst decisions that I've had to make since I've been doing this 36 years."
Kubic said he has asked Sheriff P.J. Tanner for input on whether public-safety functions should be restructured while Winn's position is vacant. But he said the position will be filled as soon as possible after that review.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.