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ACC Auditor Accuses Mayor and Manager of Intimidation

Internal Auditor Stephanie Maddox. Credit: Athens-Clarke County

Athens-Clarke County Internal Auditor Stephanie Maddox has accused Mayor Kelly Girtz and ACC Manager Blaine Williams of intimidating and discriminatory conduct that has subjected her to a hostile work environment. 

“I have endured [for] almost three years in October the most traumatic experiences of my life,” Maddox said at a news conference Tuesday organized by the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement.

Maddox said she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint last year alleging that she was confronted by Girtz and Williams after filing an open records request for ACC’s 2018 Compensation and Pay Study. Her request was unrelated to any ongoing audit. She said she wanted to read the report and explain it to her employees who may have had questions about their salaries after not receiving pay raises, and she also viewed it as a potential audit down the road. The incident is evidence of a “culture of manipulation” and “lack of transparency” within the local government, she said.

Maddox said was pressured into withdrawing the request by Williams, who she said confronted her and backed her against a wall as he accused her of wasting staff time and requesting the report for selfish reasons.

Maddox was reappointed by the ACC Commission for a two-year term on June 4, 2019. Less than a week later, according to Maddox, Girtz issued a formal reprimand and put her on a personal improvement plan for her poor performance as auditor, despite not having mentioned anything negative at her last performance review. When Maddox tried to defend her performance, she said Girtz told her to “shut up.”

Girtz said he could not comment on personnel matters. The ACC Commission is scheduled to vote June 15 on renewing Maddox’s contract, along with Williams’ and other charter officers, Attorney Judd Drake, Municipal Court Judge Ryan Hope and Clerk Jean Spratlin.

Despite the timing, Maddox said she is not focused on saving her job. Instead, she said that she held the press conference to encourage others to come forward. However, AADM co-founder Mokah Jasmine Johnson urged attendees to reach out to the mayor and commission.

ACC has spent roughly a year conducting an independent investigation into Maddox’s allegations, which is expected to be finished within the next few weeks. Williams declined to comment until that report is released.

The auditor’s office analyzes departments’ operations at the behest of the mayor and commission, independent of the manager, who oversees the government day-to-day. Friction is nothing new. In 2013, the commission under Mayor Nancy Denson declined to renew the contract of former auditor John Wolfe after 22 years on the job, pointing to the pace of his work after he took 14 months to produce an audit of the Athens Downtown Development Authority. During Wolfe’s tenure, managers Al Krace and Alan Reddish often disagreed with and ignored his conclusions. When Wolfe was dismissed, the position sat vacant for a year, then was filled on an interim basis by a retired county administrator, Steve Martin. Maddox was hired in 2015 on Denson’s recommendation.

Since then, Maddox has only completed three audits, one looking at Leisure Services youth programs, another examining the sheriff’s office, and the most recent on the Water Business Office. At an October meeting of the commission’s Audit Committee, the Overview Commission—a group of citizens appointed once a decade to review compliance with ACC’s charter—suggested restructuring the auditor’s office. Staffing has also been an issue; all of the positions in the auditor’s office are currently vacant, and the office is listed as “temporarily closed” on the county website. Despite the lack of staff, Maddox told commissioners at the most recent Audit Committee meeting in March that two reports were “in the home stretch.”

This article has been updated to correct the number of audits Maddox has completed.