By Kevin Hogencamp
Albany City Manager Alfred Lott is setting a precedent by hiring a $175-an-hour out-out-of-town lawyer introduced to the city by U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop.
Columbus attorney Melanie Slaton was hired to represent the city against unemployment claims filed by fired assistant city attorney Kathy Strang and former human resources director Mary LaMont, who resigned her position months after filing a federal discrimination complaint against Lott.
The outcome: Strang – who represented herself – outperformed Slaton, convincing the Georgia Department of Labor last week that she should be awarded unemployment benefits of $330 a week. It was Strang’s second victory in a row over the city, which – at taxpayers’ expense – hired Slaton to appeal the labor department’s initial ruling in Strang’s favor.
LaMont, meanwhile, lost her case and is appealing her decision. She said, though, that the hearing produced “an official record of false testimony sworn, under oath, to be the truth and nothing but the truth” by Lott, Assistant City Manager Wes Smith and Assistant City Attorney Jenise Smith.
Indeed, after the hearing, LaMont informed the hearing officer of the audiotape recordings and other evidence she has substantiating that the three provided untruthful testimony.
LaMont’s case is the first time the city has not used its in-house legal department, which costs taxpayers more than $400,000 a year, to represent it during unemployment insurance cases. The maximum benefit Strang or LaMont could have received would be $330 a week – a total of about $6,500. Compared to Slaton’s $175-an-hour fee, Strang received about $33 per hour as assistant city attorney representing the city in such matters and in civil litigation.
Already, the city has pays hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds for private attorneys in Albany and Atlanta to defend Lott and the City Commission against discrimination claims and other employee grievances. Now, over the past three months, Lott has paid Columbus attorney Melanie Slaton about $25,000 and counting to handle Strang’s and LaMont’s unemployment cases and to help plan Strang’s termination and the city’s defense against LaMont’s federal discrimination complaint, records show.
Strang and LaMont, both of whom claimed while working for the city that the city is discriminatory and retaliatory, say in public record that city officials provided false testimony during their recent unemployment hearings, which were conducted and taped labor department. Participants in the hearings are required to take an oath to tell the truth under threat of being charged with perjury.
City hall has been scandal ridden since shortly after Lott was hired in 2005. While Lott feuded with LaMont and Davis feuded with Strang, Lott says Davis needs to be fired because he may have been planning a murder-suicide when Strang found a loaded gun in his office. Meanwhile, it is Lott – not Davis – who is losing his job; the City Commission recently forced his resignation, but gave him until July 2011 to find another job.
Meanwhile, public records and an audiotape recording of a telephone conversation between Lott and LaMont show that Lott lied to LaMont about what would become attorney Melanie Slaton’s role with the city. Lott directed LaMont to hire Slaton earlier this year as a favor to Bishop, records and a recording show.
Public records reflect Lott’s directive to LaMont was to hire Slaton to train city employees on federal employment matters, a service that LaMont advised Lott is provided to employers by the federal government free of charge.
Lott said he wanted Slaton put to work in spite of the unnecessary expense, and despite there being no funds budgeted for Slaton’s services.
LaMont said in an interview that Lott wanted to put Slaton to work as a favor to Bishop.
“He (Lott) said we should do this because Bishop has done a lot for the city,” LaMont said.
Lott also says on an audiotape during a meeting with LaMont that Slaton did not work on Strang’s termination and grievances Strang filed. If that’s the case, Slaton is stealing funds from the city, because her invoices reflect that she billed the city for legal work on both matters.
LaMont says that Slaton told her that she was specifically hired to help the city terminate Strang.
“When I stated I thought she was hired to investigate Kathy’s grievance, she stated, ‘Oh, yeah, that, too. I provided my report to the commissioners.’”
If Slaton compiled a report, it either was withheld from the human resources department or employee Niger Thomas lied about its lack of existence, LaMont said.
Further, Thomas says during an audiotaped meeting that Slaton advised her that she should never document things she observes or that is reported to her because it could be presented in a negative light against the city. That advice is contrary to standard human resources procedures, including the city’s personnel policy.
In response to questions on the matter asked by The Albany Journal, Lott responded by e-mail: “I have no comment on this matter.”
In a letter she sent Friday to the Department of Labor, LaMont requested an appeal of the judgment denying her unemployment compensation for two reasons:
“The employers’ witnesses provided untruthful testimony during my 08/31/2010 unemployment appeal hearing. I have enclosed evidence verifying testimony was in fact untruthful. (And) Administrative Hearing Officer Elicia Hargrove outlined findings of fact that were not factual based on testimony given during the hearing.
Meanwhile, Strang says that Davis, who fired Strang after Strang found a loaded gun in Davis’ desk, committed perjury during their unemployment hearing.
In an e-mail sent Tuesday to city officials, Strang says that that during her Sept. 20 unemployment hearing, Davis “repeatedly made false statements under oath” and Slayton “suborned his perjury,” which are both criminal offenses.
“Specifically, while under oath Nathan Davis categorically denied having made insinuations that I am a lesbian,” Strang said. “The circumstances in which he did this involved a police officer who was open about her alternate lifestyle (she had an open relationship with a female firefighter). She came to the office so I could interview her regarding the Greg Elder case. Noticing her, Nathan Davis said to me with a smirk on his face, ‘maybe you’ll get lucky.’”
Following are additional claims made to Strang in an e-mail she sent to Albany city officials.
“Under oath, Nathan Davis also stated he had never reprimanded me in front of Christine Washington and Della Strum. Several months ago I described in detail to City Manager Lott and Assistant City Managers Taylor and Smith how Nathan Davis had done this — that he had done a sort of sideways-walk out from his office area around to the open area where Christine Washington’s desk is located specifically and explicitly so that Strum and Washington could hear him berating me.
“While under oath, Nathan Davis also categorically denied having stated during a meeting at Risk Management that I had lost a box of critical evidence, knowing full well at the time that he himself had, apparently by accident, destroyed the entire box of evidence (original documents) while I was out of state.
“Nathan Davis also lied when he stated under oath that Jenise Smith had gotten the Alice Warren case thrown out of court, despite the fact he knew full well that I drafted every word of the summary judgment motion that Judge Sands granted the week before last. The fact that I secured this victory for the City is relevant because, grasping at straws, as one of the pretexts for my termination he falsely accused me of negligence in handling this very case when I failed to OBSERVE a deposition (not take, not participate in, simply OBSERVE) a deposition that I thought in good faith had been cancelled, and for which I obtained the transcript, so, as he himself knew, the fact I missed it was of no consequence whatsoever.
“Nathan Davis knows there is no witness to the lesbian innuendo, so I can’t prove he lied in that regard. Nathan Davis also knows that Christine Washington and Della Strum are willing to lie for him (I saw during my termination appeal hearing that Christine Washington and Della Strum had coordinated some of their false allegations against me in an obvious effort to bolster their credibility — a ploy the Commission apparently fell for hook, line, and sinker), so I can’t prove that lie, either. But Nathan Davis apparently forgot that he has already ADMITTED that during a meeting in Risk Management he blamed me for “losing” the records he knew he himself had destroyed. Further, two separate, independent witnesses who were present at the time came to me and reported what he had said. Thus, I can independently prove this perjured statement.
“And, since it is a public document, anyone can retrieve the summary judgment motion I filed in the Alice Warren/Vy Chu case, and see whose signature is on it (Nathan Davis ordered me to include a signature line for Johnnie Graham, as well, although she provided no input whatsoever). Of course, both Slayton and Nathan Davis continued to pretend that my discovering he had committed a crime by bringing a loaded, deadly weapon into a government building had nothing whatsoever to do with me being fired.
O.C.G.A. Sect. 34-2-13(b) explicitly provides: ‘Any person who shall knowingly testify falsely, under oath, or shall knowingly make, give, or produce any false statements or false evidence, under oath, to the Commissioner of Labor or his authorized representatives commits the offense of perjury.’
“O.C.G.A. Sect. 34-8-256(b) provides in relevant part: ‘Any employing unit or any officer or agent of an employing unit … who knowingly makes a false statement or representation or who knowingly fails to disclose a material fact in order to prevent or reduce the payment of benefits to any individual entitled thereto … shall upon conviction be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by imprisonment not to exceed one year or fined not more than $1,000 or shall be subject to both such fine and imprisonment. Each such act shall constitute a separate offense.”
“O.C.G.A. Sect. 16-10-72 provides: ‘A person commits the offense of subornation of perjury or false swearing when he procures or induces another to commit the offense of perjury or the offense of false swearing and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $1,000.000 or by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than two years, or both.’
“When the Commission is on notice of this type of misconduct by Nathan Davis and Melanie Slayton and does nothing in response, it can be assumed for legal purposes that the Commission either condones or actively approves of the criminal acts, since both of these individuals are acting in their capacity as agents/representatives of the Commission.”