When Augusta’s EEO Director Jacqueline Humphrey filed complaints a few months ago with the state Bar Association against two city attorneys — General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie and staff attorney Jody Smitherman — it obviously caught several people’s attention.
Particularly, Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams.
For almost a year, Williams has been extremely vocal about his displeasure with the city’s law department, specifically MacKenzie.
In January, Williams even asked his colleagues on the Augusta Commission to consider a “no confidence” vote against MacKenzie.
Williams claimed he had received “misleading information” and “conflicting rulings” from the attorney on several different occasions.
But the Augusta Commission did not agree with Williams.
Well, apparently, at least one city employee shares Williams’ opinion of MacKenzie.
It is on record that EEO Director Jacqueline Humphrey has filed a complaint against MacKenzie with the state Bar Association, something that lawyers don’t take lightly.
Not long after Humphrey filed the complaints against MacKenzie and Smitherman, Augusta’s Human Resources Director Tanika Bryant suggested that Humphrey should be demoted from EEO director to simply an EEO coordinator.
As a result, Humphrey would no longer be a department director. Instead, she would report to Bryant, director of the human resources department.
Of course, Williams said the proposed demotion was part of a conspiracy against Humphrey for filing the complaint against MacKenzie.
However, Bryant insists the proposal was actually a result of a job classification audit performed by the city.
But the fact that Humphrey filed a complaint about MacKenzie to the state Bar was reason enough for Williams to demand answers.
During a recent Augusta Commission meeting, Williams requested that the commission discuss the riff between Humphrey and MacKenzie.
“I’m going to ask the EEO director to come and enlighten us as to what is taking place,” Williams said during the May 6 commission meeting.
Humphrey walked to the chamber’s podium and asked Williams exactly what he would like for her to explain.
“The concern regarding the legal department and the Bar Association,” Williams replied.
MacKenzie immediately stopped the discussion.
“I would just like to state for the record that any complaints or any items that have been filed with the state Bar of Georgia are deemed confidential under Georgia law and I would request those aren’t discussed in a public forum,” MacKenzie said.
Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson recommended that the commission take the discussion behind closed doors into a legal meeting.
But Williams insisted that he had been trying to get a straight answer from MacKenzie for the past several weeks in a legal meeting and he hadn’t been able to get a response.
“I’ve been trying to get these two parties together in a legal meeting,” Williams said. “But I was told that we couldn’t discuss it in there. If we can’t discuss it back there (in the legal meeting) and we can’t discuss it out here on the floor, then where can we discuss it?”
Williams said he was annoyed by the situation because MacKenzie was the one who brought the matter to his attention.
“Nobody has been charged with anything,” Williams said. “Mr. MacKenzie brought a situation to this body and shared it. He did that.”
Now, it is important for the Augusta Commission to receive more details on the matter, Williams said.
“There has been a claim of somebody filing a grievance about our attorney and it was supposed to come from Ms. Humphrey,” Williams said. “I need to know, what is that? Am I sitting with someone that I shouldn’t be sitting with? Is (MacKenzie) sitting in a seat he shouldn’t be sitting in? Is (Humphrey) in a position that she shouldn’t be in?”
MacKenzie again explained that there are limitations under Georgia law with the respect to the “confidential nature of certain things that are filed with the state Bar of Georgia.”
Therefore, MacKenzie said the commission should take up the matter behind closed doors.
“The general rule is if you are receiving evidence of a personnel matter, in a hearing-type format like you would as a personnel board, the receipt of evidence needs to be in a public forum,” MacKenzie told commissioners. “If someone was testifying about an employment matter, you would receive that evidence in a public forum. If you already got the information and you are just making a decision about information that you already have, then that is something you would be deliberating, which would be done in a closed forum.”
Sounds like “attorney talk,” doesn’t it?
Augusta Commissioner Donnie Smith asked if commissioners could submit a list of potential questions to the law department to be reviewed and approved to be discussed in public.
“Because all of us want to hear the facts,” Smith said. “I don’t think there is anybody trying to cover anything up. We just don’t want to do the wrong thing and violate the open records rule nor do we want to compromise any investigation that may or may not take place.”
MacKenzie said the commission could submit the questions, but then those questions could be subject to Georgia’s Open Records Act.
By this time, Williams was getting extremely tired of the conversation going nowhere.
“This shouldn’t be about hiring or firing anybody,” Williams said. “This ought to be about getting the information so we will be abreast of what’s been filed, why it was filed, what’s been done and are we involved.”
But instead of getting those answers, Williams said all he was receiving from MacKenzie was the runaround.
“Now, I’m thinking about filing something with the Bar myself because I’m not getting the leadership that I think we ought to be getting,” Williams said. “So if something has been filed, I want to know why and was it justified.”
Finally, Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason said he was sick of the entire conversation.
“We have been doing a lot of talking but nobody has really said anything,” Mason said. “I still don’t know why (Humphrey) is standing here at the podium because we still haven’t heard anything from her but I’m hearing a lot about what we shouldn’t be talking about but nobody has said anything yet.”
The entire conversation proves that it’s time for the government to become more transparent, Mason said.
“At some point, somebody is going to have to say something because nothing has been said,” Mason said, shaking his head. “I sound redundant because that is exactly what we are doing here, a bunch of redundancy.”
One thing if for certain, Williams is not going to let a complaint filed against MacKenzie go.
Expect to hear more about this controversy in the very near future.