Originally created 02/25/03

Lawmaker's leave of absence raises questions



Democratic state Rep. Alberta Anderson's unpaid leave of absence from the Richmond-Burke Job Training Authority during the legislative session has generated grumbling in Republican quarters that she is violating the authority's personnel policy.

Ms. Anderson has been employed as a $23,450-a-year career adviser for the authority at the Burke County campus of Augusta Technical College since April. The authority's personnel policy states that employees are "generally" eligible for leaves of absence after a year's service.

The policy also states that employees who are on approved leaves may not perform work for any other employer during that leave, except when the leave is for military service.

"I think there's a conflict," said Dave Barbee, the Richmond County Republican Party chairman and a member of the authority's Workforce Investment Board. The board sets policy on how money the authority receives is spent.

"She needs to make a choice," he said. "If she wants to be a state representative, fine. If she wants to have this job, that's fine. But she can't have both."

The authority's executive director, Aray Darden, who approved Ms. Anderson's leave of absence, said she did not think it was a violation of the policy.

"The way I assessed the situation is, she is fulfilling a mandate through an election and representing her constituency in the General Assembly," Mrs. Darden said. "And she's compensated by state statute, but she's not an employee of the state, according to my understanding. The state cannot fire her. The state does not hire her, but she receives compensation for being a public official."

As for the requirement that employees generally must be employed a year before being granted leaves, Mrs. Darden said the policy does not state that Ms. Anderson "must or shall have worked" a year.

"So I thought I had a little latitude there," Mrs. Darden said.

Augusta Mayor Pro Tem Richard Colclough, a member of the authority, said the criticism about Ms. Anderson seemed like "nitpicking."

"If you're doing a good job on both your jobs, what's the difference?" he said. "It's very difficult to get good people to serve. And I think Alberta is a good legislator. I don't know what kind of worker she is, but I know she is very community-minded."

Augusta Mayor Bob Young, the chairman of the authority, said questions about Ms. Anderson's leave had prompted him to ask Mrs. Darden about it.

"She said she had approved her for a personal leave of absence and the next day faxed me some excerpts of what appeared to be the policy manual," Mr. Young said. "In my opinion, the policy as it's being applied in this case raises questions about the legitimacy of the leave of absence. Maybe the policy needs to be a little more tightly written."

Mrs. Darden said Ms. Anderson is a good employee who has recruited people into the program and into training positions at Augusta Tech.

"That's what we really needed, and that's what she's accomplished for us down there," she said.

Mrs. Anderson did not return phone messages left at her office in Atlanta last week.

Mr. Barbee denied that partisan politics had anything to do with his opinion on the issue.

"It wouldn't make any difference of who was there," he said. "You go back to what are the rules."

The authority is a quasi-governmental organization created to handle employment training funding for Richmond and Burke counties. Funding comes from the federal government and was authorized by the Workforce Investment Act, Mrs. Darden said.

"Our money comes through the Department of Labor because that's the way it's allocated from Congress, through a state agency, but they are federal dollars that come down by law to local areas in the form of an allocation," she said.

Other authority members include Mayor Bob Young, Burke County Commission Chairman Jimmy Dixon and five members of the Work Investment Board, which is a public-private partnership of people from the two-county area who actually set policy on how the money is spent.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylviaco@augustachronicle.com.