James Names Names, and Why I Didn’t

September 28, 2011 12:02 pm

by Todd Rehm · 21 comments

In an interview with WSB-TV’s Lori Geary, State Senator Donzella James (D-Red Oak) has indicated that Senators Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville) and William Ligon (R-Brunswick) are the Senators to whose office the former General Assembly Secretary who received an $80k payout in settlement of allegations of racial discrimination was assigned.

The very moment I read about the payout I knew which Senators’ office was in question because I’d heard about the firing and allegations of racial discrimination the day it happened at the Capitol.

In informal conversations, I heard conflicting reports from former Senate employees who called into question the allegations of racial discrimination and suggested that the termination might have had legitimate cause. The people who aired those counter-allegations insisted on remaining anonymous, which I shall honor. But I won’t publish anonymous allegations against a former state employee either.

UPDATED TO FIX THE LINKIES

While that information adds to the story and suggests that the Secretary didn’t have a strong case, I could not in good conscience publish that for a variety of reasons. First is that it raises personnel issues and allows anonymous third parties to bash an individual who is probably less than a public figure. That is not appropriate here or anywhere. If employers or former colleagues were allowed to make anonymous allegations about former employees, it would damage the reputations of non-public persons without giving them enough information about the source of the criticism to respond and defend themselves.

But today, I have a slightly different perspective. It’s not fair either that two Senators should be accused of racial discrimination while their hands are tied by a confidentiality agreement that was part of the settlement agreement between the State and the former employee.

Republicans’ hands are tied in responding to the allegations by the terms of the settlement agreement, which they should abide by. The members of the Senate Committee that authorized the payment are bound by confidentiality and I believe that the Senators who are being criticized also are bound by it.

But Senators James and Fort and the Georgia Democratic Party are not so bound. They are neither members of the Committee nor parties to the lawsuit. This creates a situation in which those who would make hay are unbound by any restrictions on the allegations they can make against members of the Senate Republican Caucus but those members cannot respond.

Looking at the amount of the settlement, $80k, I’d guess that the former Secretary took down about a year’s pay after lawyers’ fees and expenses. That suggests to me that their case was not strong enough to proceed to court. For the Senate and the taxpayers, it’s a reasonable amount to avoid what would undoubtedly be expensive litigation.

I believe that more transparency in government is imperative, but personnel records and matters probably should stay off-limits. It’s not fair to subject former employees to possible anonymous, or even attributed, allegations in the news media about their job performance.

In this case, it is clear that some on the left smell blood in the water and will not leave the issue alone. Unfortunately for Republicans, the honorable and legal thing to do requires that they simply take their lumps as being the price of leadership. It’s not clear whether the Senate will move to change the laws keeping these matters shielded from the state Open Records Act.

As Jim Galloway pointed out last week, Senate Bill 503 from the 2007-2008 Session would have opened at least some currently-secret settlements. But that bill only would have affected state- or federally-protected whistleblowers and the only public agencies affected would have been county and municipal hospital authorities.

Spacey G September 28, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Yeah, ’cause sometimes a really bad secretary is just that… a really bad secretary. (Trust me, I’ve seen ‘em come, and go, in all colors of the rainbow.) We really need to have more specifics in this case now. It’s getting out of hand. And ugly. And shame on many people for playing a race card in a wildly stacked deck.

griftdrift September 28, 2011 at 12:22 pm

If it was a secretary, it’s more like 2-3 years pay. Please don’t give Harry another opportunity to caterwaul about “bloated government salaries”.

Todd Rehm September 28, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Less a third for the lawyers, that $80.5 k is down to about $54k.

The range of compensation for Administrative Assistants in 2010 ran from about $23k to $63k with a number making in the $50+ range and a cluster in the $45k range.

I’d guess that a number of those on the lower end are the temps who work only during the session and for a short period after, or those who worked part of the year in the GA. The secretary in question was paid mid-thirties in 2010, but it’s not clear whether she was there all year.

griftdrift September 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

You’re right Todd. I forgot about the vampires price. I mean lawyers fees. The net was probably one years salary.

Spacey G September 28, 2011 at 12:34 pm

BTW, speaking of secretarial duties… General Assembly Secretary should be General Assembly secretary. Lower case.

Todd Rehm September 28, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Actually, it should be ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT all caps if you go by what the title shows up as on the Dept. of Audits website.

Spacey G September 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm

You believe something you saw on the GA Dept. of Audits site? Fool!

Max Power September 28, 2011 at 12:41 pm

Looking at the amount of the settlement, $80k, I’d guess that the former Secretary took down about a year’s pay after lawyers’ fees and expenses. That suggests to me that their case was not strong enough to proceed to court. For the Senate and the taxpayers, it’s a reasonable amount to avoid what would undoubtedly be expensive litigation.

It’s also possible that she settled simply because she need the money now and couldn’t wait out the litigation. I see this all the time people with 6 or 7 figure cases jump at 5 figure settlements because they’re unemployed or have some kind of emergency. Just as you shouldn’t assume liability based on a settlement, you shouldn’t assume that she didn’t have a good case.

Todd Rehm September 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Yes, Max, that’s also a plausible scenario, especially given the current job market. But the notion that the settlement agreement means something nefarious was done is already out there.

Clint September 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm

These are pretty serious issues and the legislature hiding behind the fact that it doesn’t have to comply because it’s not covered under the open records laws just adds fuel to the fire.

The Republican dominated State Senate should let the sunshine in.

GOPundit September 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Yes the Senate is full of backroom deals but this isn’t one. This is a personnel matter ergo not privy to open records request. This isn’t a cover up or anything cloak and dagger, its standard operating procedures that holds true for all state agencies and most business. Anyone in public or privet employment should expect that their personnel files are confidential.

Todd Rehm September 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

And while there might be something to be said for changing this law going forward, I hope we don’t expect our elected officials to sign a legally-binding confidentiality agreement under the circumstances as they exist at that time, and then unilaterally decide to break it.

Archon September 28, 2011 at 2:54 pm

do you have a better link? Or did WSB take it down? Maybe the Democratic caucus in the Senate blinked realizing that the secretary this suits refers to really was terrible and they didn’t want to be embarrassed only time and Vincent will tell. I will stay tuned to see

Todd Rehm September 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Archon-

Fixed the links. It’s still available, but if you go to the website and search for it with terms like “Senate settlement” or “Donzella James” you won’t find it. Don’t know why that is.

Maybe we’ve got a Certified Social Media Guru™ who can help us with these things.

NorthGeorgiaGirl September 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm

It’s really too bad that this has all happened. I know it is probably very hard for the senators bound by the confidentiality agreement to sit back and watch these accusations without being able to defend themselves.

I remember when my husband had a secretary (given to him by his bosses, not selected by him) that he needed to fire for incompetence, and even though he had a documented case, was reluctant to do so…not because of discrimination (she was white) but because she was a single mom and he felt bad about her losing her income. I reminded him many times that he was running a place of business and not a charitable institution, and the amount of irritation and extra work he experienced correcting the incompetence was not worth the compassion he felt in keeping her employed. I think he did her a favor, because she eventually found a job that suited her personality better.

I don’t think people should feel like they have to walk on eggshells if they have a secretary they feel needs to go just because the fired person is going to make an accusation. People need to have secretaries that can work with them and get the job done…and I firmly believe that secretaries need to be selected by the person or persons for whom they will be working, not just inherited with the office.

bowersville September 28, 2011 at 4:22 pm

The public’s first impression is lingering doubt brought on by running from the cameras.

Maybe it’s time for Senator Williams, the chairman of the committee that authorized the payment, to step before a microphone and state the committee is willing to waive the confidentiality agreement provided the former employee agrees.

No one would be interested if it wasn’t political and didn’t involve tax money.

rense September 28, 2011 at 9:01 pm

A curiosity … the law firm of this woman specializes in sexual harassment cases, not racial discrimination ones. I just found that odd.

“Maybe it’s time for Senator Williams, the chairman of the committee that authorized the payment, to step before a microphone and state the committee is willing to waive the confidentiality agreement provided the former employee agrees.”

Well, the former employee would never agree to that because it is not in her interests. If this case is without merit, she is better off taking the money and running. If this case has merit … can you say “Anita Hill” and the attacks against her by David Brock and company? And this was before blogging!

As far as the GOP goes, they are better off letting this blow over, which it will in a week, max. Their responding would only prolong it.

bowersville September 28, 2011 at 9:20 pm

If this case is without merit..and this employee would never agree, ect….that’s the whole point of the committee being willing to wave the confidentiality. It ends it but changes the public perception to a favorable ending instead of leaving doubt to maybe crop up latter.

greencracker September 28, 2011 at 8:28 pm

State employee personnel files are public record. Easy enough to GORA her record (we know her name, ya?) Then we see if she has a record of being a crappy admin or a crummy one.

Modified to specify: well, their annual evals are public anyhow.

saltycracker September 28, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Perhaps the plaintiff insisted on confidentiality. A $80k deal against two legislators & netted down for attorney’s fees smells of a nuisance settlement. We can only guess.
Discrimination is a wolf in a world being desensitized by false cries.

Atticus Grinch September 29, 2011 at 10:49 pm

$ 80,000 is no “nuisance” settlement. I can assure you that no one on this site would have considered an $ 80,000 payment authorized by Tom Murphy or by a Mark Taylor appointed committee to be a nuisance payment. If that had happened and if it had been made public, the GOP party faithful and tea party types would have been outraged. Its remarkable how much leeway partisans are willing to give politicians that they approve of or agree with. Cases like this — and lawsuits like the one that Graves and Rogers was involved in — make an absolute mockery of Republican conservative principles.

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