published Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Ex-director of Georgia ethics commission sues agency

ERRIN HAINES, Associated Press

ATLANTA — The former director of Georgia's ethics commission has sued the agency, claiming she was forced out after trying to advance a probe into complaints against Gov. Nathan Deal.

Stacey Kalberman filed the lawsuit on June 8, nearly a year after the ethics commission voted to slash her salary by about 30 percent and eliminate deputy Sherry Streicker's position. Soon afterward, Kalberman announced her departure.

At the time, Kalberman questioned the timing of the salary cut and noted her efforts at the time to push ahead with the Deal investigation. She did not return a call Wednesday seeking comment. A message left with her attorney also was not immediately returned.

Streicker has also filed a lawsuit against the agency. Both women claim they were retaliated against under the Georgia Whistleblower Act.

Streicker's lawsuit claims she was told her position was eliminated to free up funding to pay for investigations and training at the agency. Yet her lawsuit said the commission posted a staff attorney position with duties nearly identical to hers months later. Streicker said she applied for the position but did not receive an interview and was passed over for someone with less experience.

Attempts to reach Streicker were unsuccessful.

The commission investigated three complaints filed against Deal during his 2010 campaign for governor. One dealt with his use of campaign money to pay for legal fees related to a congressional ethics probe. Another dealt with his disclosure of aircraft use. The third concerned whether he accepted campaign contributions that exceeded state limits.

The ethics commission is set to discuss five complaints against Deal at its regular meeting on Friday.

In her lawsuit, Kalberman asserts she explored whether to get subpoenas for more information from the Deal campaign in the fall of 2010 — citing "troubling irregularities" with his campaign financial disclosures. The commission declined to pursue the matter so close to the November 2010 election because the timing could be perceived as an attempt to influence the race.

Kalberman and Streicker — who was made aware of the complaints against Deal soon after she was hired in September 2010 — revived the issue the following spring, a few months after Deal took office. Soon afterwards, Kalberman claims then-commission Chairman Patrick Millsaps cut the budget to push her out of the agency and end the probe.

"Kalberman's resignation as Executive Secretary amounted to a constructive termination because the Commission, and specifically Millsaps, forced her out of her job and made it clear she would be rendered powerless, amounting to nothing more than a figurehead," the lawsuit reads.

Georgia's inspector general found last year that Deal played no role in the departure of Kalberman or Streicker. Deal has denied any wrongdoing and said at the time that he had not been told he was the target of an investigation.

In both complaints, Kalberman and Streicker request a trial jury, back pay and benefits and compensatory damages.

Requests for comment from the ethics commission and Deal's office were not returned.

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