Whistleblower: Ex-ethics deputy denied interview for new job
By JIM WALLS
Sherry Streicker was told her job at the state ethics commission went away last year because of budget issues, not her performance. But when a new position opened there with nearly identical duties, she says in a new whistleblower suit, she couldn’t even get in the door for an interview.
Streicker and Stacey Kalberman, once the top two executives at the State Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission, filed suit June 8 claiming they were fired for investigating possible wrongdoing by the 2010 campaign of Gov. Nathan Deal. Each suit was filed under the Georgia Whistleblower Act, seeking back pay, reinstatement and compensatory damages.
Both suits contend that the personnel actions came shortly after they had briefed commissioners in May 2011 on subpoenas they had drafted for records needed in the Deal investigation. According to Kalberman’s complaint, then-Chairman Patrick Millsaps became “visibly upset” when she told him she had discussed the investigation with federal prosecutors and the FBI and he advised her to keep the matter in “strict confidence.”
The commission cut Kalberman’s pay as executive secretary by 30 percent and eliminated Streicker’s job as her deputy in June 2011, saying it did so for budget reasons. Commission member Kent Alexander, at a June 17 meeting at which those actions were approved, said “any personnel matters discussed within the Commission are related to budget,” according to Streicker’s complaint.
Neverthless, Streicker alleges, she wasn’t even considered when she applied to come back to work for the commission in a similar job.
A former Fulton County prosecutor with FBI experience, Streicker noted the commission in October posted an opening for a staff attorney with comparable duties, “including handling complaints filed with the [commission] and directing and managing the investigation of complaints,” according to her suit.
She applied, the lawsuit says, “but was not even selected for an interview. The [commission] hired instead an individual with less experience and who had obtained her Georgia bar admission only a few months earlier.”
Streicker’s suit asks the commission to turn over all documents pertaining to her job performance and to the commission’s decision not to interview her for the staff attorney’s job.
Kalberman’s suit alleges her departure “amounted to a constructive termination because the Commission, and specifically Millsaps, forced her out of her job and had made it clear she would be rendered powerless, amounting to nothing more than a figurehead.”
Kalberman acknowledges telling Millsaps in a June 9 meeting that she could not work for the “drastic reduction in salary” that he proposed, but denies that her statement constituted a resignation. She says she was exhausted and upset after her mother had been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer.
Nevertheless, Millsaps emailed her the next day saying the commission accepted her resignation. He refused to discuss it further, the suit alleges.
Although commissioners agreed they would no longer talk to the news media about Kalberman’s employment, she contends in the suit, Millsaps broke the agreement and “vilified” her in press interviews. Millsaps “falsely claim[ed] that Kalberman focused her efforts as Executive Secretary on her investigatory and prosecutorial role to the detriment of her administrative responsibilities,” the suit alleges.
Millsaps also misled the press, she alleges, when he said he could not remember receiving the draft subpoenas intended for Deal and his associates.
Those subpoenas were never signed. The commission instead asked Deal’s attorney to produce certain undisclosed records voluntarily. The commission at its meeting Friday is scheduled to present an update on the Deal investigation.
The commission has not publicly disclosed the direction of the investigation. Streicker’s suit said it was looking at whether Deal violated state law and commission rules by:
- Failing to fully disclose personal financial information in filings with the commission,
- Failing to disclose the departure and destination points of campaign flights,
- Allowing personal use of non-commercial flights paid for with campaign funds, and
- Failing to disclose the end recipient of certain third-party expenditures made on behalf of the campaign.
(The draft subpoenas, as I reported in a 2011 article published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, raised questions about $322,000 the campaign paid to companies that Deal owns or has an interest in, or to businesses controlled by his associates.)
Both Kalberman and Streicker declined this week to comment on the lawsuits. Millsaps did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.