In a very telling deposition, Orlando Venues Director Allen Johnson told lawyers “I don’t recall” about 70 times, including questions about colleagues’ names he works with every day. The responses raise serious questions about Johnson’s leadership, knowledge and ability, especially considering he makes $180,000 per year at the Orlando Venues.
“It was surprising to learn during discovery how much high-level officials do not know about important situations,” attorney Robert Hemphill said in an exclusive phone interview. Hemphill and his law partner Kim Cullen of Winter Park law firm Cullen & Hemphill represented Graig Cooper in the lawsuit against the City of Orlando stemming from a non-contact injury during the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl game at the Citrus Bowl.
The City of Orlando recently settled the Citrus Bowl lawsuit before the case went to trial next month. It appears from the depositions, neither the City of Orlando nor the other defendants wanted this case tried in the public eye.
So how does one of Mayor Buddy Dyer’s top officials, making $180,000/year, justify his apparent lack of knowledge on critical Orlando Venues matters?
In his own deposition, Johnson also claimed he was in charge of quite a bit. “I oversee the venue’s operations, marketing, budgeting, recruitment for open positions, public relations, event recruitment, bookings,” Johnson stated. This response was before he started not being able to recall anything. It’s amazing such a high-ranking official would not recall key information about such an important matter.
Johnson, who holds a college degree in psychology from the University of Central Florida, also described how he got into facilities work during college by selling concert tickets in the old Fashion Square Mall. Johnson even admitted his deep background in turf management by answering, “I used to cut my own grass.”
It appeared throughout his responses that the deposition may have been a game to Allen Johnson.
At one point, Allen Johnson was under pressure being questioned about his hiring of a “turf consultant” named Ralph White who also was a consultant for the sod companies who got the city bid. Johnson was asked if his office contracted with White to work with the City of Orlando.
“Can you define office?” Johnson actually replied. These were the kinds of embarrassing responses provided when he was not claiming, “I don’t recall” around 70 times. Just minutes before this question, Johnson responded to similar questions about his office with no problem.
In another exchange with attorneys, Johnson actually provided an answer and after stating “I usually don’t do this,” he ended by saying: “I’ll help you. That’s one freebie. That’s it.”
“Ask him if he has any more freebies,” attorney Hemphill told Cullen. “Yeah, no. I think I know that answer to that one,” responded Cullen.
In a lengthy exchange that included many claims of “I don’t recall” from Allen Johnson, lawyers questioned the Venues Director about his lack of knowledge of field conditions, concerns from his own staff and other maintenance needs. Johnson claimed he was unaware of any work done at the Citrus Bowl by his employees other than “painting the logos and team names.”
It’s almost hard to believe this is not a joke. Allen Johnson is actually a hand-picked employee of Mayor Dyer.
One of Johnson’s top employees at the Citrus Bowl was Greg Thompson, stadium operations manager. Lawyers produced an email from Johnson’s employee to the turf consultant Ralph White saying: “If I had known they were going to cheapskate us, I would not have used them.” When asked if he had an opinion on his employees description using cheapskate, Johnson replied “I don’t.”
Depositions from other parties involved and city employees who worked for Allen Johnson did not paint a pretty picture of the Venues department leadership.
Allen Johnson even attempted to claim he did not recall a meeting he set up himself after the bowl games to discuss the playing surface at the Citrus Bowl. Lawyers asked Johnson about a meeting he set up with colleagues he works with every day at the Orlando Venues. But could the Orlando Venues Director admit it?
“I don’t remember all those names,” Johnson claimed.
After attorneys presented a two-page record detailing the meeting and attendees, Johnson shifted his response slightly. “I recall discussion about the sod and the installation in the meeting,” the Venues director said.
Later in the deposition, Allen Johnson tried to deflect some of the blame on the decision to bid out the contract for less money to another top Dyer official, David Billingsley, Chief Procurement Officer at the City of Orlando. After presenting another public record stating, “Attended the sod contract pre-bid meeting in mid-October chaired by David Billingsley in purchasing,” Johnson continued his act when asked if he would confirm he attended the meeting as the record indicated. His first response was, of course, that he did not recall.
“If I could recall, it would be possible,” Johnson said.
“It’s possible?” the attorney responded.
“No, it’s not. I don’t recall,” Johnson replied. He later added that despite being paid $180,000 per year to be the Orlando Venues Director, he had no interest in attending meetings on subjects like this.
“I generally would not attend a meeting of that nature,” Johnson admitted. So again, why is he making so much money to run the Venues and what exactly does he do and know? It’s really hard to tell – and Allen Johnson likely doesn’t recall either.
This kind of behavior from Allen Johnson is nothing new. He blatantly lied to Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orange County Commissioners in an official memo about Tinker Field before Dyer demolished the historic site. More information on Allen Johnson’s questionable history at the City of Orlando has also been obtained and is currently being reviewed before publication.
All of this continues to raise serious questions about the high-ranking official Allen Johnson, especially considering he is making $180,000 per year while Orlando ranks as the lowest paying metropolitan area in America under Mayor Dyer’s administration.