Georgia DOT Board Votes to Reprimand Commissioner

Tue April 22, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Shannon McCaffrey - ASSOCIATED PRESS



ATLANTA (AP) Georgia Transportation Commissioner Gena Abraham was slapped with a reprimand April 21 but will keep her job amid revelations of a budding romance with the board chairman who helped put her in office.

The board of the Georgia Department of Transportation voted 8-3 to reprimand Abraham for failing to report her relationship with board chairman Mike Evans in a timely fashion. Evans resigned the week before the vote to date Abraham. DOT policy bans intimate relationships in the direct chain of command. The board oversees the commissioner.

The board’s action came after it met behind closed doors for three hours. At least two board members favored harsher sanctions against Abraham, Gov. Sonny Perdue’s hand-picked choice to the lead the troubled department. Dana Lemon put forward a motion to oust Abraham. David Doss wanted to put her on probation for six months and slash her $175,000-a-year salary by 25 percent. Neither proposal made it to a vote as the majority of the board opted instead for the reprimand.

On April 11, Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle expressed confidence in Abraham, who has been on the job just five months after a hard-fought election victory in October against state Rep. Vance Smith. The election became a test of wills between Perdue and House Speaker Glenn Richardson, who was backing Smith. Abraham eked out a win by a 7-6 board vote. Evans voted for her.

Perdue said Abraham remains the right person to straighten out the department. An internal audit has found that the DOT has promised $1 billion in projects it cannot deliver. An outside auditor is being brought in to scour the department’s books.

Board Member William Kuhlke said the board was concerned because Abraham and Evans told Board Vice Chairman Garland Pinholster about their romantic feelings but then waited another two weeks to tell the board. Even then, it was another board member who called the executive session to discuss the matter.

"She should’ve gotten back to the board sooner," Kuhlke said.

But he said he believed Abraham could still be effective in turning the department around.

"My personal opinion is she’s the right person for the job," he said.

In another development adding to the chaos at the DOT, a sexual harassment complaint has been filed against Pinholster, who had been serving as acting board chairman after Evans stepped down last week.

On April 21, Pinholster resigned the chairmanship — which he had only assumed on April 17. He made no mention of the complaint and explained that since he is not running for his seat again it made sense to select someone who could provide continuity in the leadership post. He participated in the meeting by speaker phone.

Kuhlke confirmed the existence of the complaint speaking to reporters after the meeting but would not provide specifics.