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Augusta fires EEO officer

Augusta’s Compliance Department sits around a table in January. Equal Employment Opportunity Officer J.G. Long, second from right, was fired Tuesday after asking to meet with commissioners about problems in the office. File/Staff

Augusta equal employment opportunity officer J.G. Long was fired Tuesday, a day after he requested a meeting with the Augusta Commission about issues such as undue influence on investigations and conflicts of interest.

 

Long was hired in December to investigate and adjudicate employee claims of harassment and discrimination as EEO officer in the newly-created compliance department, which oversees employment and disability claims, and ensures minority and small business opportunities.

Compliance director Kellie Irving confirmed Wednesday she had terminated Long, but would not say why. “This is the morning after a major decision,” she said. “It’s a major loss for the department. Evaluation needs to be done before filling that void.”

The May 15 letter, addressed to Commissioner Marion Williams and obtained by The Augusta Chronicle, requested a private meeting with the commission to detail what Long said were “increasing concerns.” Those concerns included “EEO office independency and undue influence,” “oversight and control of EEO investigations,” “EEO complaint confidentiality,” staffing and conflicts of interest.

The letter said the office structure prevents the EEO officer from independently investigating and adjudicating employee complaints and that Long is “personally prepared to accept the alternative” if the commission declined his request.

“It was my understanding upon accepting the position as EEO officer that Augusta, Georgia government was committed to addressing employment discrimination, wherever it may lead,” the letter said.

Long, who has an EEO consulting business called Sterling, Winchester and Long LLC, couldn’t be reached for comment. He was a finalist last year for Irving’s position and earned about $73,000 as EEO officer.

The city personnel manual has general protections for employees against retaliation for reporting wrongdoing. Clearer whistleblower protections appear in draft manual revisions that have been under discussion for months.

A few commissioners said they did not learn of the termination until late Tuesday and were unsure why it happened. Most did not return multiple calls seeking comment.

Asked about Long’s letter, Commissioner Dennis Williams said, “I don’t know what evidence or facts he has to prove his point.”

Long would have been actively involved in investigating internal claims made by employees, which city officials said last year numbered as many as 50. He spoke to commissioners, several said, in a closed legal session about claims made by Augusta Professional Firefighters Association Fire Chief Charles Masters prior to a recent settlement with Masters.

Long replaced Jacqueline Humphrey, the former city EEO coordinator who was fired two years ago. At the time, commissioners said Humphrey was passing along information about cases to the commission and appeared, according to Commissioner Bill Lockett, “more interested in the welfare of the complainants than the welfare of the government.”

City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson created the “compliance director” position to meet requirements of Augusta’s Consolidation Act that the commission employ a direct report to oversee equal employment and minority small business, then added disability compliance to the mix, all under Irving. Irving said Wednesday she just hired Carole Burrowbridge for the accessibility position.

Between Humphrey’s termination and Long’s hire, Augusta used a consultant with the level of independence Long describes in the letter to handle EEO cases. Carmen Alexander, also at one time a finalist for compliance director, investigated the city human resources department then later handled cases such as the termination of two maintenance supervisors for engaging in a variety of discriminatory practices on the job.

The city has paid Alexander’s firm, the Peacemakers Center for Dispute Resolution, $270,019 since February 2015 according to check records.

 

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

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