No settlement reached in city engineer firing

The city still has not reached a financial settlement with a former city engineer over a racial discrimination lawsuit.

Augusta Commissioners Don Grantham and Jerry Brigham said Tuesday that Teresa Smith has not accepted the $125,000 the city offered her to settle the suit. Ms. Smith filed suit in U.S. District Court in July 2007, alleging that her firing was racially motivated. According to court records, the judge closed the lawsuit on technical grounds last month with instructions to attorneys to report back within two months about any possible settlement.

Mr. Brigham said the city offered Ms. Smith $125,000 about two weeks ago.

"There's no agreement right now, let's put it that way. I think that means we're going to court," he said.

Mr. Grantham said, "We're not making any more offers.''

Commissioners had earlier declined to discuss the issue after a closed legal meeting Tuesday. City Attorney Chiquita Johnson later confirmed in an e-mail that a settlement had not been reached.

Her response came after The Augusta Chronicle sought documents pertaining to the settlement in a Sept. 25 Open Records request. The city refused to release the documents, saying they were confidential. In a Sept. 29 letter to the city, the newspaper said the city couldn't assert confidentiality, and it restated that position Tuesday.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Ms. Johnson informed the newspaper's attorney, David Hudson, that there were no documents to view because there was no settlement.

Ms. Smith, who is black, contends that her ability to complete engineering projects was crippled when commissioners allowed the only other licensed engineers to transfer out of her department when she was put in charge. She also contends she was paid less than other department heads.

City commissioners voted to fire her in December 2005, citing complaints from businesses that dealt with the engineering department under her leadership, The Chronicle has reported.

According to court records, Ms. Smith received good evaluations before her termination. The city, in response to discovery requests, was unable to produce any letters from local businessmen complaining about Ms. Smith.

Reach Sandy Hodson and Johnny Edwards at (706) 724-0851.