Augusta department head in equipment probe signs severance agreement

Former Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson accepted a three-month severance package Tuesday as Augusta Commission members threatened to move him to unpaid leave.

 

Johnson submitted his resignation two weeks ago after City Administrator Janice Allen Jackson placed him on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into misuse of government equipment on a private job site in Lincoln County.

Johnson had up to 21 days to sign a waiver of claims and execute the severance agreement and did so Tuesday, General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie said Johnson had consulted with a lawyer but did not identify the lawyer. Commissioner Sammie Sias had requested to shift Johnson to unpaid leave, but the agenda item was deleted after Johnson signed the agreement.

Jackson, who came under fire after telling commissioners last month that the equipment matter was handled with the retirement of a single employee, presented no findings from an internal investigation Tuesday, commissioners said. Jackson said she placed Johnson on leave only after receiving a Richmond County Sheriff’s Office report in late May.

Al Gray, the whistleblower who lives in the same remote Lincoln County area and sent authorities photographs of the equipment, and later Johnson, at the site, addressed the commission Tuesday.

Gray said commissioners were “protecting a nice lady administrator,” Jackson, who he blamed for “two-thirds” of the incident. The sheriff’s office, responsible for the piece of equipment lent to the landfill that wound up in Lincoln County, was accountable for the other third, he said.

Gray said the Georgia Bureau of Investigation should look into the matter because of conflicts of interest.

Mayor Hardie Davis said he typically would not respond, but decided to Tuesday.

“There has been an investigation to determine whether there was anything criminal that took place and the finding was there was not,” Davis said.

The mayor went on to defend the absent Mayor Pro Tem Mary Davis, saying she is “a good woman, she is my friend and she is a member of this body.”

Mary Davis was named in a recent blog post – “The Mary Davis Sand and Gravel Company” by Gray that he said was satirical.

The mayor said he was not the holder of any government money and told Gray there were “consequences” for impugning the government.

Commissioner Marion Williams, who also called for a GBI probe, said others on the commission ought to be interested in what was going on in Lincoln County.

“Mr. Johnson was not the sole person involved in that situation,” Williams said. “I would hope this body would want to know.”

Williams’ motion to submit the matter to the GBI received no second.

Commissioner Ben Hasan said District Attorney Natalie Paine had been looking at the matter since June 1 and would have findings “any day now.”

The sheriff’s report stated it would be forwarded to Paine but Paine said she did not receive it until making a request.

Davis replied he was “not aware of the things that the commissioner from the sixth (Hasan) has referenced.”

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

 

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