When word spread this past week that the U.S. Department of Labor has officially launched an audit of Augusta’s city departments regarding whether the local government is properly following the Fair Labor Standards Act, it got some folks’ attention.
An audit by the federal government is no laughing matter.
Basically, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is a federal law which establishes minimum wage, overtime pay eligibility, record keeping and child labor standards impacting workers in both the private sector and in federal, state and local governments.
So the nagging question on many Augustans’ minds is: what exactly are the feds looking for?
Some people are pointing to a class-action lawsuit relating to improper pay for overtime work that was settled by the city last summer as a possible red flag case. The city ended up paying out about $58,000 to more than 80 Augusta firefighters.
Others believe that a compliant filed by former deputy coroner Johnny McDonald last year claiming that the city had improperly classified him as a manager and never paid him overtime wages, which violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, may have seriously concerned the U.S. Department of Labor.
After all, the city ended up paying McDonald about $200,000.
Whatever the reason, if the federal government wants to dig into the city’s practices regarding pay and wages, there will be a whole line of disgruntled former employees of Augusta-Richmond County who will be happy to help.
While The Augusta Chronicle reported this week that the city has a whopping “80 pending equal employment and EEOC cases” and that interim Human Resources Director Michelle Elam recently resigned, there have been several other recent employees who either abruptly resigned or were fired who may want to have a little chat with auditors.
Specifically, former Equal Employment Opportunity Coordinator Jacqueline Humphrey was fired last March by the commission around the same time that former Human Resources Director Tanika Bryant resigned.
Well, anyone who sat through an Augusta Commission meeting during Humphrey’s tenure as the equal employment opportunity coordinator knows that she was not one to remain silent when something bothered her.
While she might not have publicly addressed the commission about her concerns regarding an issue, Humphrey would literally sit in a commission meeting and vocalize her dissatisfaction for everyone in the audience to hear.
Whether it was loudly praising a commissioner for supporting an issue that she favored with an “Amen” or even proclaiming, “That’s just plain wrong!” if the commission voted against an item she felt strongly about, Humphrey let her feelings be known.
Some commissioners saw her behavior as unprofessional considering her sensitive role within the government.
Humphrey was also known for having verbal disagreements with both General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie and former Human Resources Director Tanika Bryant. It got so bad with MacKenzie that Humphrey even filed an official complaint against him with the Georgia Bar Association.
So, did Humphrey have any involvement with initiating this audit of the local government by the U.S. Department of Labor?
Who knows, but chances are she wouldn’t mind exposing some of the skeletons in the city’s closet if asked by the feds.
Another employee who might have a lot to say about Augusta’s government is former Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Coordinator Yvonne Gentry, who abruptly submitted her resignation in June.
Gentry, who was hired by the Augusta Commission more than 10 years ago, was often under fire by some commissioners regarding the city’s disadvantaged business enterprise program, which struggled for years to even get off the ground.
Over the years, Gentry also clashed with other department heads including General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie and long-time Procurement Director Geri Sams.
About two years ago, Gentry accused Sams of trying to go behind her back regarding developing a plan to begin implementing a race and gender conscious program to address the problems outlined in a disparity study of the city.
This $580,000 study of race and gender disparities was released way back in 2009 and found that, while 35 percent of the Augusta market was made up of women- and minority-owned businesses, those businesses received less than 7 percent of the government contracts.
The problem was that Gentry had ample opportunity to develop a race and gender conscious program, but nothing ever seemed to be successfully implemented. That’s why the city asked Sams to try and help develop a plan.
But Gentry clearly didn’t appreciate Sams involvement in her department and she pounced on Sams in a public meeting.
However, Gentry was messing with the wrong person.
Sams not only completely disputed what Gentry told the commission, she publicly demolished Gentry.
“You’re receiving information (from Gentry) that I find to be awfully petty, and I find to be disrespectful and I find it to be a blame game that has been happening since 2004,” Sams said in the summer of 2014. “Now, I don’t mind being blamed for not doing or following directions. It doesn’t bother me. But for someone to stand here and say, they weren’t a part of something and they were, that’s upsetting to me.”
In her report to commissioners, Sams said that Augusta has had many discussions, workshops, directives and has become a “victim of the blame game” explanations from Gentry and her office for years.
Those excuses have resulted in the “loss of money from the last disparity study, time and disappointed vendors and taxpayers of Augusta,” Sams stated.
“I also stand before you today to tell you that where we are right now, I find the DBE office to be one office that needs some directive and I also find it to be totally dysfunctional,” Sams said.
The word “dysfuntional” hung in the air like the foul smell coming from Augusta’s Wastewater Treatment Plant on a hot day.
So, could Gentry have a beef with the city?
Sure. Enough to send the feds knocking on Augusta’s door?
Of course, she’s not the only one.
There is a whole list of former city employees who may want to cause the city of Augusta some serious discomfort, including former Housing and Community Development Director Chester Wheeler, former Parks Director Tom Beck and possibly even former City Administrator Fred Russell.
Augustans will just have to wait and see what the feds uncover following this audit, but chances are, they’ll probably find something considering how things generally operate down at the Marble Palace.