A former director of the Williamson County and Cities Health District pleaded guilty last week to two counts of attempting to disclose a recording of a closed meeting, Class C felonies, and was ordered to pay a $500 fine for each count.
When he was director of the health district, Derrick Neal secretly made tapes of two county board meetings about his claims of racial discrimination, according to a lawsuit filed by the county against him.
The district attorney found Neal’s phone recording the discussion last year under a pile of documents during one of the meetings. Neal knew he should not have attended the executive sessions where his claims were discussed, according to the suit.
Neal, who is Black, did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. He is now the chief public health officer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, according to the city’s website. His lawyer also declined to comment.
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The lawsuit demands that Neal’s phone not be returned to him until the recordings are removed from the device and from a cloud-based server where they can be stored and copies given to the district. The lawsuit also requests that Neal not be allowed to remove any other files from the phone pending the outcome of the lawsuit and a lawsuit Neal has filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the district.
The lawsuit does not provide any details about the racial discrimination claims Neal made against the district. The district attorney declined to comment on them.
“The phone is now in the custody of the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office 1, pending the outcome of the civil case,” said Brad Bullock, one of the district’s attorneys. “The purpose of sequestration is to prevent a party from removing, destroying, or altering evidence relevant to the cause of action.”
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The incidents can be traced back to July 2021, when the district council chairman left the post and a new chairman took over, the lawsuit said. “For reasons unknown to WCCHD, this change in leadership apparently caused Neal to inform others at WCCHD that he was concerned about his job security due to this transition,” the suit says.
“By letter dated August 12, 2021, Neal submitted a request to WCCHD’s General Counsel in which Neal alleged allegations of racial discrimination and requested a substantial severance package,” it said.
The district’s board met in executive session on Sept. 1 and Oct. 13 to discuss Neal’s claims with his attorney, the lawsuit says. It said Neill was asked to leave both meetings before the discussion began. The district attorney found Neal’s phone, which recorded the meeting during executive session on Oct. 13, the lawsuit says.
The board called Round Rock police after Neal’s phone was found and police took the phone, according to the lawsuit. It said the board had received information that the phone also contained a recording of the Sept. 1 executive session.
Neal was placed on administrative leave with pay on Oct. 13, pending the results of the investigation, the lawsuit said. He resigned on Oct. 14, according to the lawsuit. He has been the executive director of the health district since January 2019. The current executive director of the district is Dr. Caroline Hilbert.
Neal filed a charge of racial discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Oct. 27, the lawsuit says. It says the district dismissed his allegations.
Neal’s EEOC complaint is still pending, according to the lawsuit. The health district wants Neal’s phone confiscated because previous electronic devices he had were lost, damaged or deleted, the lawsuit says. Those devices included a district laptop with a broken glass screen and deleted content that Neal returned after resigning, the lawsuit said.