The conversation that unraveled a veteran Beaufort County employee's three-decade career took little more than an hour.
On the afternoon of June 20, former director of public safety William Winn met with a subordinate who worked in the county's Building Codes department.
In a letter dated June 27, the employee expressed discomfort about that meeting -- about questions he was asked and about statements he claims Winn made.
Less than a month later, in a two-sentence letter, Winn resigned.
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"After 32 years of service, this letter is to notify you of my intentions to fully retire from Beaufort County," he wrote. "My final day will be December 31, 2011."
Winn and the building-codes employee wrote differing accounts of their conversation, which were obtained from the county through South Carolina's Freedom of Information Act.
In his June 27 complaint, the employee wrote that he requested the meeting to clear the air after hearing Winn didn't like him. The employee, who appears to be an immigrant who became a naturalized citizen, wrote that the meeting went well at first, but then "seemed to turn into an interview."
Winn asked what country he came from, if he served in the military there, and when he received U.S. citizenship.
"He told me that he believes that a person should die in the country he was born in," the employee wrote. Winn also said he didn't care for Middle Eastern people or French people, the letter said.
Attempts Friday to reach Winn for comment were unsuccessful.
But in a letter dated July 26, he disputed that narrative, writing that the employee led the conversation "by telling me about himself, his background and his life experiences."
"Those topics generally do not even come up in our work setting, but that employee seemed to want to tell me about himself and to engage me in conversation about his qualifications for job advancement," Winn wrote.
Winn didn't deny making any of the statements attributed to him. But he argued they were "blips" in a long conversation and "responses in return to unsolicited comments (the employee) made."
Furthermore, Winn wrote that he recommended the employee for promotion in a meeting on June 22 -- days before the complaint against him.
Winn's personnel file contains no previous instances of discriminatory comments, according to a letter from county attorney Josh Gruber.
The incident could lead to a federal discrimination lawsuit, county administrator Gary Kubic said, so the county couldn't simply have the two sit down and hash out their differences.
"I have a deep pocket in the county," he said. "And as much as I would like to believe that reasonable people will always do reasonable things, I have to first protect the county and its deep pockets."
Kubic placed Winn on administrative leave. He brought in an outside labor attorney to interview the two men and the employee's direct supervisor.
On July 14, Kubic outlined his response to the incident:
The resignation came in the midst of hurricane season.
But Kubic said he has complete faith in the county's emergency-management team, even without Winn at the helm.
"It's always the team that's the most important," he said. "To William's credit, he has produced a pretty good team."
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.