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    OIG probe leaves open questions about staff departures at ethics panel

     

    By JIM WALLS

    Dec. 9, 2011 — Georgia Inspector General Deron R. Hicks says his staff found no evidence that his boss, Gov. Nathan Deal, pressed for the firing of the state’s top two ethics investigators.

    The question is: How hard did he really look?

    Hicks

    Stacey Kalberman, executive secretary of the state Campaign Finance Commission, and her deputy, Sherilyn Streicker, lost their jobs abruptly in June, ostensibly for budget reasons. Those personnel actions came shortly after they had asked the commission to approve subpoenas for Deal and several close associates to produce campaign and business financial records.

    Atlanta Unfiltered reported Thursday that Hicks, responding to a complaint alleging political interference at the commission, made a preliminary inquiry, said there was nothing there and closed the case Nov. 1.

    Hicks said in an interview that he “isolated” himself from the investigation from the start, since he is Deal’s appointee, and assigned the case to his senior investigator, Deborah Wallace.

    “I do have faith that she makes wise decisions based on what she considers the most relevant issue,” Hicks said Thursday.

    Wallace’s investigation consisted primarily of interviews with Kalberman and Streicker, who said they thought politics was behind the shakeup, and with the five commission members and the governor’s former executive counsel, who said the personnel actions were not politically motivated, a review of the case file shows. Investigators also spoke with employees of the Attorney General’s and Secretary of State’s offices who were unlikely to have direct knowledge of political motivations for those personnel actions.

    Wallace also submitted a couple written questions to Deal who, through his attorney, denied involvement in Kalberman’s departure.

    Kalberman provided Hicks’ investigator with phone records to support her statement that the governor’s office called to offer her help finding another job. The investigator did not ask then-commission Chairman Patrick Millsaps to provide phone records showing whom he’d been talking to, particularly in the period after Deal had reappointed him to another term in March.

    Nor did they ask Millsaps about several notable disputed points, particularly his public statements that he felt he should recuse himself from the Deal investigation.

    Millsaps told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in June:

    “We were given something on the Deal case. I probably didn’t look at it too much.”

    Kalberman told a different story, according to a memo on her interview with the Inspector General’s investigator:

    Kalberman told OIG that she briefed Millsaps who served as Board Chairman, most frequently in order to keep him apprised about ongoing matters of the agency, and especially the Deal investigation. She described that the more they spoke about the investigation, the “communication intensified” and Millsaps “seemed uneasy” about the case. As a result, their conversations became “tense.”

    Streicker told the Inspector General

    “that throughout the course of her [Deal] investigation, Kalberman had briefed Chairman Patrick Millsaps ‘who had come across as hesitant about our investigation.’

    Streicker told OIG, “Next thing you know the budget stuff came out of the blue and they eliminated my position.”

    Nothing in the OIG file indicates that Millsaps was asked whether Kalberman had briefed him on the investigation or whether he had spoken with anyone other than the commission’s membership or staff about the probe. Millsaps later stepped down from the commission after questions were raised about the legality of his appointment.

    The investigation also did not address why the commissioners, who justified Streicker’s termination by saying they did not need an attorney on staff, have since decided they need a staff attorney after all.

    The final step in the OIG’s investigation was an Oct. 24 letter to Deal’s executive counsel, Ryan Teague, asking whether the governor had discussed Kalberman’s situation with any of the commissioners or had asked Millsaps to “get rid” of her.

    Teague’s response, in an Oct. 25 letter:

    “Per your request, I have inquired of Governor Deal on the questions posed.

    “First, Governor Deal did not have any discussion with Director Millsaps or anyone from the GGTCFC regarding personnel transactions relating to Stacey Kalberman. Second and in response to your question 3), Governor Deal did not have any type of communications with Director Millsaps regarding ‘getting rid’ of Stacey Kalberman.”

    Wallace’s letter did not ask whether anyone else in the governor’s office might have talked to Millsaps about Kalberman.

    “That was my call to address it with a letter,” Hicks said Thursday. “I felt like it was the best way to not leave any questions as to what was asked.”

    He acknowledged that his investigator could also have recorded an interview with Deal to alleviate such questions.

    Hicks also disputed any suggestion that, since he works for Deal, the outcome of the investigation was a foregone conclusion.

    “I didn’t create the structure of my office. Governor Deal didn’t create the structure of my office,” he said. “We found ourselves in the positions we found ourselves in.”

    Ex-Gov. Sonny Perdue created the Inspector General’s job within the governor’s office in 2003 by executive order. There is no mention of the inspector general in state law.

    “You’re gonna inevitably get someone saying it’s because you work for the governor, which I do,” Hicks said. “There’s no way around that.”

    P.S. Randy Evans, attorney for Deal’s campaign, still hasn’t returned my call for comment on the inspector general’s findings. But he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Hicks’ investigation was “thorough and complete.”

     

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    3 Responses to “OIG probe leaves open questions about staff departures at ethics panel”

    1. Denise Caldon says:

      Interesting, but not surprising.

      The OIG ended their investigation regarding serious violations by top administrators at Macon State College in 2009 that were covered up by the top officials at the Board of Regents of the USG. Their attorney, our State’s Attorney Sam Olens – still keeps the facts – confirmed in Depositions, Affidavits and Discovery documents – SEALED in a Protective Order in the Fulton Cty. Superior Court.

      The last paragraph of the OIG report, pg. 15, states:
      “The evidence/conclusions disclosed in this report may have been limited by evidence including (email, computer files, etc.) that was no longer available at the time of the investigation; or due to certain facts and circumstances not being divulged by those who were investigated.”

      Yet, no one at the OIG even bothered to ask why the evidence was “no longer available” or ask why “certain facts and circumstances not being divulged by those who were investigated.”

      The Georgia Constitution, Section IV, Par.1-B, states:
      “The government, control, and management of the University System of Georgia and all of the institutions in said system shall be vested in the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia.”

      According to one of my many sources, just like the appeals process for all USG faculty, staff and students (never read by the BOR Committee), the OIG is told when to investigate and when to look the other way. Their words – not mine – but obvious to most Georgians.

    2. Bill of Rights says:

      The OIG is basically a political tool created by executive order and not substantiated by the legislature. To provide this organization with any crediblility whatsoever is a danger to our constitutional rights as citizens. The recent investigation into the prison system is a prime example of how this organization has expanded its powers to the investigation of private sector businesses. This unauthorized ‘expanded’ scope allows what would appear as an illegal organization to appoint themselves as judge, jury an executioner over the private sector. As such, the private sector being investigated is denied due process to provide a defense to any charges brought forth by the OIG. This is a true example of government power roving unchecked over the constitutional rights of the citizens.

      When you begin to dig into the creation and role of the OIG, it is all too apparent that it is ripe for corruption and use as a political battering ram. Perhaps if the private sector businesses involved in the prison contract investigation had been major contributors to the Nathan Deal campaign, the Gestapo…er..OIG would have stuck to their appointed charter.

      This article also would call into question the timing of the probe into the prison contracts. Could it be to divert the spotlight off of the misdeeds of the ruling party?

    3. Concerned Citizen says:

      The case of the fox guarding the hen house:

      Mr. Donaldson, who is a full time employee of the State of Georgia maintains an interest in a forensic accounting firm with also investigates both private sector and public sector accounting cases involving fraud etc. As a Deputy Inspector, Mr. Donaldson receives benefits by nature of his position with the state in his private sector interests. This would constitute a clear conflict of interest. Mr. Donaldson’s private sector interests would most certainly benefit from the publicity generated by Mr. Donaldson’s work with OIG and as such creates an environment in which Mr. Donaldson’s investigative reports could be biased in order to receive publicity beneficial to his private interests..

      The private sector would never stand for a full time employee also maintaining a business interest in another firm performing the same type of work.

      Until recently, Forensic Solutions LLC, Georgia prominately featured Mr. Donaldson’s photo and creditials on its web page. The web page has only recently been changed to remove Mr. Donaldson’s information. This would give the appearance that there is an attempt to cover up Mr. Donaldson’s private relationship with Forensic Solutions LLC.

      The OIG website does confirm the relationship between Mr. Donaldson and Forensic Solutions, LLC through this statement:

      Mr. Donaldson began his career with Forensic Solutions, LLC, a professional service firm specializing in fraud detection, investigation and prevention consulting services. In 2007, he became a managing member of Forensic Solutions and currently serves in this capacity.

      Mr. Donaldson’s private interests may also benefit by referrals of business through his position at OIG. While referrals of cases involving state agencies would clearly be a violation, referrals of other public entities such as municipalities could be construed as an ethical issue if not an out right conflict of interest.

      This is particularly disturbing in lieu of the recent investigation into the State Ethics Attorney, Mr. Plank. In this case, Mr. Donaldson was the investigator into the fact that Mr. Plank was employed as a full time attorney for the state while maintaining a private law practice. As a full time salaried employee, there is no ‘clock’ denoting when ‘work’ is performed therefor any work performed relative to competing interests could be considered a conflict. Ironically, Mr. Donaldson appears to be in the same situation as Mr. Plank. In Mr. Donaldson’s defense, there apparently is no policy which would prohibit such activity.

      Unfortunately, due to the very nature of how the Office of the Inspector General was created, there is absolutely no oversight of this organization or its employees. They are simply allowed to conduct business as they see fit with no fear of retribution for any wrongdoing by the agency or its employees.

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