• Ethics commission lawsuit centered around slashed salary, staff elimination

    By: Richard Elliot


    ATLANTA - The current State Ethics Commission Director testified Wednesday that there were no budget concerns when she took over despite the fact that commissioners slashed the previous director's salary and eliminated her staff attorney's job because of perceived budget worries.
    Former Ethics Commission Director Stacey Kalberman is suing the commission because she claimed it forced her out of her job after she and Staff Attorney Sherry Striker opened an investigation into Nathan Deal's 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
    Former commissioner Kent Alexander testified that in 2011, he believed the Ethics Commission had serious budget woes and voted to slash Kalberman's salary by $35,000 and voted to eliminate Staff Attorney Sherry Striker's job.
    "It was all about the budget," Alexander told jurors. "I can certainly say with certainty from my perspective, it was all about the budget."
    But within a month of new director Holly LaBerge taking over the job, the budget worries disappeared to the point she had to hire two new employees, including a new staff attorney.  But LaBerge testified she did not even consider Striker for the job and did not grant her an interview.
    "I don't think loyalty has anything to do with whether somebody has an interview or not," LaBerge testified.  "I based who I was going to interview on all of the resumes I received.  I don't think it's good policy to hire former employees."
    Kalberman's attorney, Kim Worth, asked LaBerge if the fact that Striker opened the investigation into Deal's campaign played into her decision not to interview her.  "Absolutely not," LaBerge replied.
    LaBerge acknowledged that someone from the governor's office called her and asked if she would be interested in the Ethics Commission Director's job before Kalberman even left the post; however, LaBerge could not remember who in the governor’s office made the phone call.
    Kent Alexander, who later resigned from the commission to run U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn's campaign, said that revelation did worry him.
    "It gives me pause if calls were going between the governor's office and Ms. LaBerge about a position that wasn't even open yet," said Alexander.
    Testimony will continue Thursday morning.

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