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.