May 16, 2024 - Politics

Investigation finds Atlanta HR chief abused authority

Atlanta Human Resources Commissioner Tarlesha Smith. Photo: City of Atlanta

Atlanta Human Resources Commissioner Tarlesha Smith. Photo: City of Atlanta

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens has put Atlanta Human Resources Commissioner Tarlesha Smith on administrative leave after a damning inspector general report found she abused her authority.

Why it matters: The report released Thursday alleges Smith used her role at City Hall to create a position for her daughter. She then retaliated against her daughter's former supervisor when the supervisor tried to hold Smith's daughter accountable.

Driving the news: Bridget Smith received an offer letter for a nearly $52,000-a-year compliance analyst job in the city solicitor's office on Dec. 20, 2022, before the position was advertised, according to the report.

  • She lacked the qualifications for the job and skipped several steps for the position, including an interview and background checks, and was shepherded through the hiring and onboarding process.
  • City staff noted her relationship with Smith throughout the process, and her candidate profile had false information about her background.

Friction point: Jennifer Johnson, the administration director for the city solicitor's office, told Smith's daughter that her job required onsite training. The daughter responded with absenteeism, tardiness and "a poor attitude," according to the report.

  • When Johnson tried to fire Smith's daughter for job abandonment, the report alleged Smith and one of her deputies retaliated against Johnson with an investigation and a "prescripted outcome" to fire Johnson.
  • HR placed Johnson on administrative leave and tried to fire her before its investigation ended despite pushback from the city solicitor's office. HR even refused to provide its investigation records to City Solicitor Raines Carter, who told the inspector general's office that he felt "usurped."

The intrigue: According to the report, some city employees told the inspector general's office that Smith created a "kiss the ring" culture in HR that required everyone to show deference to Smith to garner her favor, otherwise one could lose their job.

Zoom in: The inspector general's office reported that HR obstructed access to its records several times to delay the watchdog agency's investigation.

  • Additionally, the inspector general's office was unable to interview several other employees amid the investigation.

What they're saying: Atlanta Inspector General Shannon Manigault said in a statement that "nepotism and retaliation have no place in" Atlanta's government.

The other side: According to a letter Thursday from Atlanta Chief Operating Officer Lisa Benjamin, "a conflict of interest was created" when the issue wasn't escalated to the mayor's office or the law department "to prevent even the appearance of impropriety."

What's next: Benjamin's letter said the mayor's office assigned the matter to its law department for further investigation.

  • Additionally, Benjamin's letter said the administration has asked the law department to develop new policies concerning immediate family members to prevent conflicts of interest in executive duties.
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