On Sept. 24, Stephanie Maddox, internal auditor, was fired by the Athens-Clarke County mayor and commission, under the cloud of discrimination and abuse of power that just now is coming to light, ending the tenure of an innovative, ethical, public servant here in our city.
Earlier that afternoon, I personally informed the county attorney that in 2016-17, Nancy Denson, the now-former mayor of Athens, suggested to Allison Wright, a county commissioner serving the 4th District, that steps be taken for the commissioner to stop contributing to the hostile work environment emerging in the auditor’s office. Specifically, for persistent, adversarial communications and actions directed toward Maddox. Wright eventually resigned from the committee. Two years later, Wright was reassigned to the audit committee after Mayor Kelly Girtz took office for his current term.
In my opinion, Commissioner Wright was actively colluding with the county manager’s office and by extension other departments, including the human resource office, to discredit the auditor and eliminate the charter office in favor of privatization at the time of Wright’s reappointment to the committee. I do not know if Mayor Girtz was aware of Wright’s prior actions and reason for resignation from the audit committee.
I also informed the county attorney during our short conversation that the county manager, Blaine Williams, had Maddox removed from a 2018 criminal investigation on the water reclamation facility after the police department asked the auditor to participate when strong indicators of purchase card fraud and other activity was found in multiple county departments, independent of the actions and charges faced by the defendants, both of whom are presumed innocent, stemming from the original investigation.
Denson had approved the auditor’s participation in the investigation, but hours later, Maddox was removed from it before the audit committee knew about any of it. The county manager successfully used a type of communication that excluded Maddox from being aware of the manager’s extraordinary action.
Like the resignation and reappointment of Wright to the audit committee, I do not know if Mayor Girtz knew of the removal of the auditor from the criminal investigation, since it happened before he was elected and took office. The removal of Maddox by Williams from the criminal investigation is the moment, in my opinion, when he took away the auditor’s independence and put it squarely in the realm of mostly unelected, overtly biased decision makers, where it remains today.
Maddox had a big red X put on her back by several powerful people inside our local government from nearly the time of her appointment in 2015, and that X was kept fresh by at least one elected official.
Amazingly, to my knowledge, the former mayor was never interviewed by the county attorney’s office or the independent investigators hired by the county government to find clarity and resolution about the just recently reported conflict, ending with the unjust firing, from what I know.
What resulted was the smearing and termination of Maddox. All for some twisted notion of political power engineered by folks that betrayed the public trust.
As a volunteer community advocate who spent many hours learning about the auditor’s office and advocating for it over the past three years, I hope the mayor and commission do the right things, including whatever it takes to give justice and meaning to public servants like Maddox and the offices they lead as representatives not only of the unified government, but also to the people of Athens-Clarke County.
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