Robert Crain dismissed after internal investigation into coercion and misconduct

SPOTLIGHT FILE PHOTO - Columbia County's code enforcement officer was terminated recently after an internal investigation and a criminal investigation by the Columbia County Sherifff's Office.Columbia County's code enforcement officer has been fired following an internal investigation.

County officials confirmed to the Spotlight that Robert Crain, who worked for the county's code enforcement division, was given a dismissal notice in early August.

"Union rules require that employees be given ten days notice," Karen Kane, the county's public information officer, stated. "His last day with the county is August 16."

Crain's termination comes in the wake of both an internal and criminal investigation into suspected coercion, theft and misconduct. While an internal investigation has wrapped up, it's unclear whether the criminal investigation has concluded.

In April, deputies with the Columbia County Sheriff's Office raided the home of Crain and his wife, Linda Wheeler-Crain, who both worked for the county's Land Development Services Department. Robert Crain worked as the county's code enforcement officer, while Linda Wheeler-Crain worked as a permit technician.

Sheriff's deputies served a search warrant on the Crains' home on April 11, seizing "official and personal records and digital files" belonging to the couple, a county news release indicated.

"The case began after evidence had surfaced indicating possible coercion involving the Code Enforcement and a residence in the County," the news release stated.

Investigating officers noted they were looking into charges of official misconduct, coercion, criminal conspiracy and aggravated theft, according to the county.

In the absence of a code enforcement officer, the LDS department said complaints were being directed to other staff within the department.

Further details of the investigation have not been released.

Linda Crain remains on administrative leave from her position, according to Kane.

County commissioners voted Wednesday to fill the vacant code enforcement position, but questioned how the new hire should serve the county.

In recent meetings, commissioners have considered reorganizing some departments within the county, to maximize efficiency with staffing and address overlap in responsibilities between departments.

"We've been looking at and talking about a re-organization with Land Development Services, Public Health and Roads," Commissioner Alex Tardif pointed out. "If we move forward with this appointment now, what is it going to do to our potential restructure later on?"

Despite uncertainty, commissioners voted unanimously to approve hiring for a new officer.

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