According to multiple accounts shared with the Cayman Compass, Health Minister Osbourne Bodden on Wednesday, Dec. 10, engaged in a screaming and profanity-laced encounter with his ministry’s chief officer, Jennifer Ahearn, who was serving as acting deputy governor at the time.
The incident was so intense that a security guard was called to the scene. Among the dozens of government staffers who overheard Mr. Bodden’s cursing and berating his chief officer, several spoke to the Compass on the condition of anonymity.
The commotion began at approximately 12:20 p.m. last Wednesday when Ms. Ahearn entered Minister Bodden’s office on the fifth floor of the Government Administration Building in George Town to speak to him concerning a matter she had emailed him about earlier in the day.
Both Mr. Bodden and Ms. Ahearn were contacted for comment. Ms. Ahearn said it would “not be appropriate” for her to comment under the circumstances. Mr. Bodden also declined to comment on the story late Tuesday afternoon.
Shortly after Ms. Ahearn entered the minister’s office, approximately 20 to 30 people on the same floor clearly heard what was described as “extremely voluminous bellowing” coming from the minister’s office. The fifth floor of the building is an “open” office plan, and walls between the closed-door offices circling the main cubicle area are fairly thin.
Even so, according to a report of what occurred based on the statements of the acting ministry chief officer and a number of ministry staff members present at the time, the “bellowing” was to the extent that staffers “couldn’t believe it was the minister.” The encounter left a number of staff members stunned and has significantly affected the office’s ability to continue its work, according to several civil servants who were there at the time.
The description of the events, which was given in writing to Deputy Governor Franz Manderson on Friday, Dec. 12, indicated the following staff recollections of what was shouted at Ms. Ahearn during the brief closed-door meeting.
The statements included: “You aren’t even Caymanian, you are like a piece of f%&king driftwood.”
“You know that I can make your life a living hell.”
“Get out of my face. Get out of my f&%king office. Get out of my f&%king office now.”
According to the description of events that was given to Mr. Manderson, Minister Bodden’s statements were referred to as discriminatory, profane and threatening. The shouting was clearly heard by staff members of other government ministries that share the same office floor and in the words of one staffer “if you couldn’t hear [the shouting], you were deaf.”
Civil servants on the office floor indicated that two staff members present during the incident were in tears and that another was shaking so badly the person had to sit down. The shouting grew so intense that a security guard was called, and went with two health ministry staff members to the office door to check on the situation. At that point, Ms. Ahearn was said to have walked out of the office, looking pale, according to staffers’ descriptions.
“The treatment of this ministry’s highest-ranking civil servant by the minister and subsequent lack of disciplinary action to date [as of the Dec. 12 writing to Mr. Manderson] has shaken up all the staff of the ministry,” the description of the incident sent to Mr. Manderson noted.
Mr. Manderson was contacted several times on Monday and Tuesday about what occurred. He indicated he was very concerned about the matter and it was understood by the Compass that meetings had been scheduled this week to address it.
In a joint statement issued to the Compass late Monday by the deputy governor and Premier Alden McLaughlin, Mr. Manderson said: “I was contacted by Chief Officer Ahearn concerning this matter and immediately raised the matter with the Honourable Premier in accordance with the constitution and Public Service Management Law.”
The deputy governor said he is “confident” the matter was viewed “seriously” by Mr. McLaughlin, who is ultimately responsible for government ministers under the Cayman Islands Constitution Order , along with the territory’s governor. Mr. Manderson said there is a “plan in place to address the issue going forward.”
Mr. McLaughlin’s comments did not indicate what action his administration might take to address what happened on Dec. 10.
“I do not believe that it is either helpful or appropriate for government to discuss personnel misunderstandings in the press,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Sometimes, when you have strong personalities who are passionate about their work, differences in opinion will occur. There was such a variance of opinion between Minister Bodden and his chief officer, for which the minister has already apologized in writing to his chief officer and the ministry staff.”
The apology came in the form of an email Mr. Bodden sent to ministry staff the day after the office incident, Dec. 11.
“The public can rest assured that the matter is being addressed to ensure that the important work of the Ministry of Health, Sports and Culture is not compromised and the several projects being undertaken by the ministry remain on target,” Premier McLaughlin said.
A different impression was in the incident description sent to Mr. Manderson on Dec. 12 by civil service staff.
“The staff of this ministry is simply not able to get past this incident and continue to work as usual,” the document indicated.