ATLANTA --- Georgia Transportation Commissioner Gena Abraham was slapped with a reprimand on Monday but will keep her job amid revelations of a budding romance with the board chairman who helped put her in office.
The board of the Georgia Department of Transportation voted 8-3 on Monday to reprimand Ms. Abraham for not reporting her relationship with board chairman Mike Evans in a timely fashion. Mr. Evans resigned last week to date Ms. Abraham. DOT policy bans intimate relationships in the direct chain of command. The board oversees the commissioner.
At least two board members favored harsher sanctions against Ms. Abraham, Gov. Sonny Perdue's hand-picked choice to the lead the troubled department. Dana Lemon put forward a motion to oust Ms. Abraham. David Doss wanted to put her on probation for six months and slash her $175,000-a-year salary by 25 percent. Neither proposal made it to a vote because the majority opted instead for the reprimand.
Ms. Abraham declined to comment after the vote.
On Friday, Mr. Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle expressed confidence in Ms. Abraham, who has been on the job just five months after a hard-fought election victory in October against state Rep. Vance Smith. The election became a test of wills between Mr. Perdue and House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who was backing Mr. Smith. Ms. Abraham eked out a win by a 7-6 board vote. Mr. Evans voted for her.
An internal audit has found that the DOT has promised $1 billion in projects it cannot deliver. An outside auditor is being brought in to scour the department's books.
Board Member William Kuhlke said Monday that the board was concerned because Ms. Abraham and Mr. Evans told Board Vice Chairman Garland Pinholster about their romantic feelings but then waited another two weeks to tell the board. Even then, it was another board member who called the executive session to discuss the matter.
"She should've gotten back to the board sooner," Mr. Kuhlke said.
But he said he believed Ms. Abraham could still be effective in turning the department around.
"My personal opinion is she's the right person for the job," he said.
BACKGROUND: The state's Transportation Commissioner became involved with the chairman of the Georgia DOT board, who helped elect her.
- Chairman Mike Evans resigned last week to date Gena Abraham, the commissioner.
- On Monday, the board voted 8-3 to reprimand Ms. Abraham but allow her to keep her job.
GOVERNOR SAYS: Gov. Sonny Perdue stands behind Ms. Abraham, saying she's the right person to straighten out the department.