Editor’s note: Over the past few days, we have been revisiting the Top Ten stories of 2014 in the Cayman Islands. These are the stories that, in the view of Cayman Compass editors, not only “made the headlines” but also had a significant or lasting impact on these islands.
One of the biggest stories of 2014 – involving an expletive-laced tirade by government Minister Osbourne Bodden aimed at his senior office staff member – broke during the waning days of December and was still playing out as the year drew to a close.
The commotion began at approximately 12:20 p.m. on Dec. 10 when Health Ministry Chief Officer Jennifer 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.
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 such an 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 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.
The fallout from the incident so far has included a partial shuffle of Cabinet responsibilities, still leaving Mr. Bodden as a minister of government. He will still be responsible for the areas of youth and sports. He will also take over the community affairs ministry, which will be moved from Premier Alden McLaughlin’s remit. Community affairs chief officer Dorine Whittaker will move to Mr. Bodden’s ministry. Mr. McLaughlin will retain responsibility for the home affairs ministry and will take on the additional areas of health and culture.
Ms. Ahearn will remain as chief officer of Mr. McLaughlin’s new ministries. Current chief officer Eric Bush will stay at home affairs.
The premier’s press secretary confirmed that responsibility for the landfill project will shift to Premier McLaughlin’s new ministry.
It is believed that Ms. Ahearn will retain her leadership role on that project, but that is not yet confirmed.