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Former Augusta general counsel at home, in debt

Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011 8:35 PM
Last updated 9:05 PM
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Chiquita Johnson’s time as Augusta general counsel doesn’t appear to have helped her career.

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Chiquita Johnson got nine-months' severance.  File/Staff
File/Staff
Chiquita Johnson got nine-months' severance.

The city attorney from October 2007 to January 2010, Johnson agreed to resign last year in exchange for a nine-month severance package.

The package approved by seven Augusta Commission members paid Johnson what she would have received for nine months’ work and bought out her Augusta lease, bringing the total to at least $110,000. She had a $125,000 salary, $7,200 car allowance, $6,250 in deferred annual compensation, health, dental and other benefits,

The package was three months more than Johnson was guaranteed by City Administrator Fred Russell in the employment contract they signed in March 2008, but it won Johnson’s consent not to sue the city or disparage the mayor or Russell, who likewise cannot speak poorly of Johnson.

Johnson spoke very briefly last week with a reporter, saying, “Nobody was interested at the time, and I don't think anyone is interested now.” She then declared the preceding conversation to have been “off the record.”

An Emory Law School graduate with an undergraduate degree in journalism, Johnson’s tenure in Augusta began to unravel not long after it began.

She was hired as a staff attorney at the same time the commission tried to hire Pope Langstaff, then the city attorney for Macon, Ga., to replace Eugene Jessup, who was fired after only four months as Augusta general counsel.

“It was all about hiring an attorney from outside Augusta,” Commissioner Jerry Brigham recalled.

Jessup had been hired in November 2006, at the same time as current city attorney Andrew MacKenzie. But when Langstaff turned down the job in Augusta, the commission named Johnson as interim general counsel on Nov. 7, 2007.

She was made permanent on Feb. 20, 2008.

Within days, Johnson had missed a federal court deadline to respond to a lawsuit alleging unfair purchasing practices filed by the Association for Fair Government and three Augusta business owners, although a U.S. district judge later denied the plaintiffs’ request for a default judgment against the city.

During 2008 and 2009, the commission spent many hours behind closed doors with the city attorney, while the city legal department, now the gateway for all open records requests, went to great lengths to block routine requests by The Augusta Chronicle for basic information related to business licenses and spending on outside counsel. 

But the commission did not appear to take notice until late 2009, when Johnson presented two proposals before the body. One sought to restrict the media’s access to commissioners during commission meetings, and the other gave general counsel police powers to investigate any city office, employee or firm doing business with the city.

Around the same time, commissioners also learned of Johnson’s $5,000 spending spree on silk trees, single-serve coffee makers, a water cooler and other more necessary office items using her city Sam’s Club card.

They apparently hadn’t known about Johnson’s earlier trouble, unearthed by an Augusta Chronicle investigation, with government-issued credit cards. As deputy director of legal services for the Georgia Department of Public Safety, Johnson had been fired in February 2007 for using a state-issued American Express card to purchase personal items from the Home Shopping Network, drugstores, restaurants and clothing stores.

Today, Johnson remains a member in good standing with the Georgia Bar Association, according to the association’s records, which list her employer as the Augusta Law Department, with a Covington, Ga., address.

Johnson answered the telephone last week at the Covington home she has owned since before her employment in Augusta. Her name does not appear on any recent filings in court records accessible online; nor does it show up in a search of staff listings for government legal personnel.

Johnson, who applied for unemployment benefits earlier this year, continues to have financial difficulties.

In March, the Internal Revenue Service filed a federal tax lien against her for unpaid income taxes. Johnson owes $15,832 for taxes not paid in 2008 and $15,962 for unpaid 2009 income taxes, according to the lien.

Comments (41) Add comment
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trimmy
29
Points
trimmy 11/27/11 - 09:08 pm
0
0
What a joke!
Unpublished

What a joke!

stampman79
13
Points
stampman79 11/27/11 - 09:18 pm
0
0
No sympathy here. What goes

No sympathy here. What goes around comes around.

raul
5535
Points
raul 11/27/11 - 10:01 pm
0
0
She makes a brief statement

She makes a brief statement and then declares it, "off the record". Ha Ha. Most anyone, especially a lawyer, would know anything said without agreement beforehand that it was off the record, is fair game. Oh, and she has a journalism degree also.

sand gnat
635
Points
sand gnat 11/27/11 - 11:48 pm
0
0
Who were the 7 monkeys that

Who were the 7 monkeys that agreed to pay off this bad banana? Better yet, who hired her? That person should be fired for lack of vetting.

raul
5535
Points
raul 11/27/11 - 11:58 pm
0
0
@sand gnat. See related

@sand gnat. See related articles on the left hand side of the article for some of the background.

blues550
380
Points
blues550 11/28/11 - 12:16 am
0
0
What goes around...
Unpublished

What goes around...

my.voice
5092
Points
my.voice 11/28/11 - 12:25 am
0
0
Why rehash this woman's

Why rehash this woman's story? There's no new substance here so why bring this up? Is there an axe to grind somewhere or has the AC just run out of fresh topics?

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/28/11 - 12:29 am
0
0
my.voice, as a taxpayer, I

my.voice, as a taxpayer, I want to know where more than $100,000 of our money went and what became of it.

Besides, I don't think we can remind this community or our commissioners enough about the dangers of failing to exercise due diligence in hiring key employees.

Connor Threlkeld
943
Points
Connor Threlkeld 11/28/11 - 01:23 am
0
0
My Voice, this article is

My Voice, this article is part of our occasional "What Ever Happened To" series, where we take requests from readers who ask about people who have previously appeared in the news or were otherwise influential in the Augusta area.

Craig Spinks
817
Points
Craig Spinks 11/28/11 - 02:08 am
0
0
I've seen friendlier-looking

I've seen friendlier-looking countenances on the "Wanted" posters at the main post office downtown.

Who hired her?

Iwannakno
1533
Points
Iwannakno 11/28/11 - 02:09 am
0
0
I would also add that the
Unpublished

I would also add that the importance of this story is how the Augusta Richmond Government NEVER documents the poor work record of a lot of upper employees and then has to spend these ridiculous amounts of money for the right to fire a substandard employee. Sounds about right for how ARC is run...

seenitB4
93730
Points
seenitB4 11/28/11 - 06:17 am
0
0
Does a college degree mean

Does a college degree mean anything anymore.......

cityman
-6
Points
cityman 11/28/11 - 06:32 am
0
0
Affermative action waste
Unpublished

Affermative action waste case!

david jennings
624
Points
david jennings 11/28/11 - 06:50 am
0
0
No sympathy here either.

No sympathy here either. Johnson sounds like her own worst enemy. Sounds like she has been very fortunate, good education, capable of making good money. Yet owes the IRS and having financial problems. College degree? Talk about friendly looking countenance, reminds me of C McKinney.

Austin Rhodes
2970
Points
Austin Rhodes 11/28/11 - 07:23 am
0
0
This lady reported directly

This lady reported directly to one Mr. Fred Russell.

Little Lamb
47986
Points
Little Lamb 11/28/11 - 08:01 am
0
0
Yeah, but Fred Russell is not

Yeah, but Fred Russell is not one to be bothered with trivial stuff like managing the employees who work for him. He subscribes to the Sgt. Schultz school of management.

Riverman1
90653
Points
Riverman1 11/28/11 - 08:23 am
0
0
Y'all really think any city

Y'all really think any city administrator will take on the head of the legal department?

But she was always antagonistic towards most everyone and that's a sign of incompetence. She would react negatively when her abilities were tested. How in the world did she get into Emory Law, graduate and pass the Bar?

rmwardsr
525
Points
rmwardsr 11/28/11 - 09:08 am
0
0
seenitb4:The ability to study

seenitb4:The ability to study and pass exams does not garauntee any ethical and moral values. What I don't understand is the terms of her severance package, which states that she must not badmouth the city, and they must say anything derogatory about her. What difference does it make it if she badmouths the city to a new potential employer, that only hurts her chances of employment. So if Fred just states the facts about her job performance, he would not be badmouthing her, OR does she have some dirt on Fred that he did not want to be made public???? I just wish I could have gotten such a sweetheart deal on a job that I got fired from. And Craig Spinks: If she continues her pattern of behavior, the post office may be the next place you see her photo.!!!

Riverman1
90653
Points
Riverman1 11/28/11 - 09:19 am
0
0
Didn't she work for some

Didn't she work for some other government in SC for awhile after leaving here?

Little Lamb
47986
Points
Little Lamb 11/28/11 - 09:28 am
0
0
I thought it was Teresa Smith

I thought it was Teresa Smith that went to work for some SC government.

Austin Rhodes
2970
Points
Austin Rhodes 11/28/11 - 10:04 am
0
0
It was...LL...and she lasted

It was...LL...and she lasted about 15 minutes.

The former administrators never had a real "law department" to supervise. Fred has a REAL bad habit of not documenting troubling behavior AND not checking to make sure the "i" gets dotted and the "t" gets crossed when it comes to paperwork, background checks, etc.

For the average employee, I could understand somewhat...for a city attorney or the head of public works...no way in Hades.

Fred Russell is incompetent, and for that matter, a coward.

Brad Owens
4859
Points
Brad Owens 11/28/11 - 10:07 am
0
0
Sad story really. Threw it

Sad story really. Threw it all away with both hands.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/28/11 - 10:08 am
0
0
1. Iwannakno hit the nail on

1. Iwannakno hit the nail on the head. The lesson here should be the importance of documenting incompetence. A performance evaluation should be an accurate reflection of actual performance.

2. Why would any severance package require city officials to lie about her performance? The severance should require that the truth be told. If the truth hurts, then so be it.

justthefacts
24016
Points
justthefacts 11/28/11 - 10:08 am
0
0
rmward, it's standard

rmward, it's standard procedure among entities to only confirm dates of employment to other entities asking for references. No one wants to have to defend their "comments" in a court of law no matter whether they are defendable or not. Who needs the aggravation? Sad but true.

Austin Rhodes
2970
Points
Austin Rhodes 11/28/11 - 10:12 am
0
0
Until we get a "loser pays"

Until we get a "loser pays" requirement in these types of threatened lawsuits, shelling out settlement money will be the rule...

Again...Russell is horrible.

follower
59
Points
follower 11/28/11 - 10:57 am
0
0
Let's go a little further.

Let's go a little further. Why was she not charged with "breach of trust" after stealing money from the Georgia Department of Public Safety in 2007, ie the taxpayer, by using a state issued credit card for personal use? Why was she not charged for the same conduct while being employed by ARC? Why is she still a member in good standing with the bar?

Since there is no criminal record of criminal activity, who's to say she won't end up working as legal counsel for another municipality?

Why did she get a pass? .............Twice? And why did the taxpayers of ARC have to pay someone that displayed this type of behavior severance?

Vito45
-2
Points
Vito45 11/28/11 - 11:15 am
0
0
Insider, the fact is that a

Insider, the fact is that a lot of managers put blinders on with protected classes because they don't want to deal with EEO complaints. Many will file a complaint for even looking at them cross-eyed, much less documenting their poor performance. For example, you notice a particular employee frequently coming in late and spending a lot of time away from their desk. You write them up and next thing you know is you are challenged with " Do you document the arrival and departure times of EVERY employee?" You say: "Well, no I don't; I just notice when I see an empty desk and it is after 0800.". They say: " You are picking on Mr. Nazir because he is Muslim, you have no evidence he is chronically late". "Now, about Ms. Jones; you say she is away from her desk a lot, and is surly with you and other employees. What evidence do you have? She says the men in the office talk down to her and treat her less than equal. She also says that others are away from their desks and in the breakroom as much as she is. Have you written them up too, or are you just picking on her because she is a female?"

And it goes on and on. If you document anything, you better to be able to prove that you hold everyone else to precisely the same standard or EEO will eat you alive. Looking at the picture of this woman, I wager she has EEO on speed dial if her expression is any indicator of her attitude.

Little Lamb
47986
Points
Little Lamb 11/28/11 - 11:37 am
0
0
follower asked: Why was she

follower asked:

Why was she not charged with "breach of trust" after stealing money from the Georgia Department of Public Safety in 2007, ie the taxpayer, by using a state issued credit card for personal use? Why was she not charged for the same conduct while being employed by ARC?

It's out of character for me to defend less than competent city employees, but in this case, there is a defense. I have no information about what she did with government charge cards while with the Dept. of Public Safety, but the "$5,000 spending spree on silk trees, single-serve coffee makers, a water cooler," etc. she did with the city charge card were for her office, not her home; so they weren't illegal, even if they were not essential.

follower
59
Points
follower 11/28/11 - 11:50 am
0
0
LL, the article says plainly

LL, the article says plainly that she used the card while with the department of Public Safety for items from the Home Shopping Network, personal items, restuarants, and clothing. Illegal use of government property is a breach of trust.

You may be right as to the items while with the ARC government, but at the least, it shows poor judgement, along with poor performance. ex. late filing of court documents.

Either she was incompetent and over her head, or didn't care. Both are grounds for dismissal is such a vital position. And the dismissal should not have warranted severance.

The glue holding her nameplate on the door wouldn't have dried before she was out the door in a private company. With government.......different story.

Little Lamb
47986
Points
Little Lamb 11/28/11 - 12:01 pm
0
0
I agree completely, follower.

I agree completely, follower. But Austin Rhodes gave a good explanation on page one about why governments are reluctant to document poor performance and take appropriate action.

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