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Four months before the Catoosa County commission hired him as the new county manager, Jim Walker Jr. was accused by a female employee of touching her breast, touching her bottom and making inappropriate comments.

Walker, who was the Henry County, Ga., manager at the time, denied the allegations during a human resources investigation. But he stepped down after the probe ended, nonetheless.

In his report, Henry County Employee Relations Manager R.J. Doleman wrote that Walker committed specific acts of sexual harassment, "general untruthfulness" and "an inexcusable amount of intimidation of witnesses participating in this investigation."

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Catoosa County Manager Jim Walker Jr.
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Doleman did not return a call seeking comment, but Walker told the Times Free Press that the investigation was motivated by small-time politics, not facts. He said Tommy Smith, the chairman of the Henry County Board of Commissioners, told the female employee to file the allegations because Walker sided with the majority of the commissioners instead of just Smith.

Walker said Smith, in fact, had been targeting him for the 10 months he had been on the job. Walker said he was accused of everything from racism to riding with an out-of-state license plate for too long.

Walker said he was Henry County's fourth manager in 1 1/2 years, and that he only resigned because he was tired of dealing with Smith.

"This was all just a hatchet job by the chairman," he said. "There was absolutely nothing to it."

Smith did not return calls seeking comment.

On Sept. 15, the Catoosa County commission voted 5-0 to hire Walker, who brought with him a strong résumé. Before landing the job in this small northwest Georgia community with a population of 65,000, Walker served as Alabama's director of homeland security from 2003-10.

He was also the state liaison from Alabama and Mississippi to the Gulf Coast Claims Facility after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Walker, who served in the Army, wrote in his résumé that he was an aide to President Ronald Reagan and briefed Gen. Colin Powell during Operation Desert Shield.

Catoosa County Commissioner Bobby Winters, who did not participate in last month's interview with Walker because he was attending to business at his flea market that afternoon, said other local elected officials told him Walker was the best available candidate. They also told him the sexual harassment allegations did not have merit.

County Attorney Chad Young said that he talked with Henry County's attorney about the investigation, who also told him about the toxic local politics. Because there was no evidence of harassment beyond the accuser's word, Young said the allegations were "every bit as likely" motivated by politics. Walker adamently denied the accustation during his interview with Catoosa County.

"The issue of the sexual harassment allegation is not one the Board of Commissioners took lightly and is one they wanted thoroughly investigated and vetted before moving forward," Young wrote in an email.

Commissioner Jim Cutler said the four elected officials who voted to hire Walker felt comfortable bringing him on staff. The county will pay him $125,000 per year.

"He's a great guy," Cutlert said. "Outstanding résumé. I have no qualms or problems with hiring him as our new county manager. I think he'll do a great job. He has my full support. One hundred percent."

In Henry County, meanwhile, the unnamed female employee said Walker targeted her.

"I have felt uncomfortable for a while," she said during the investigation. "I feel like with each incident or comment it intensifies. I feel as if he waited for a chance."

To the human resources investigator, Walker responded: "What does she feel like I was looking to accomplish or gain by taking any 'chance'? Go figure. I work in a high-stress, complex, time-consuming, adult office knowing every decision I make and every action I take is going to be overly scrutinized, analyzed and criticized."

Pointing out a stain

On April 23, according to the investigation, the female employee returned to the office with a sweet tea stain on her blouse. She said he and Walker were in the office, alone.

"Curly," he said, "you've got a stain."

When she looked down, she later recalled, Walker touched her breast with his glasses and ran them against her body in a circle. She said she retreated to the mailroom and waited for other employees to arrive in the office.

Walker said this never happened. He said he was never alone in the office with the female employee and never touched her. He said her stain wasn't even near her breast — it was closer to her neck.

Grabbing a phone

On April 27, the female employee told an investigator, she was in the office with Walker again when he handed her some personal bills and asked her to mail them. When she turned around, he grabbed her phone out of her back left pocket. She said it was deep in her pocket when he reached for it.

Walker told the investigator that phone was actually about to fall out of her pants when he "instinctively" saved it. He also said he couldn't have buried his hand deep in her pocket to remove the phone because of a military injury from 1982 that limited the range of motion in his right hand.

After the incident, the female employee said she sent a text to a co-worker.

"Someone put his hand in my back pocket," she allegedly wrote.

"Jim?" the employee responded.

"Yes."

Inappropriate comments

The female employee also told an investigator that Walker frequently told her he liked her makeup, her hair, her clothes and her tan. Once, when they were planning a game show for Employee Appreciation Day, Walker told her to wear a night gown and be his Vanna White, referring to the "Wheel of Fortune" personality.

Walker said these allegations are taken out of context. Yes, he asked her to be his Vanna White, but he meant that comment as a general phrase for a game show assistant. He said he told the same thing to two or three other employees. And when he told her to wear a night gown, he meant to say evening gown.

"Typical guy mistake," he told the investigator.

Walker also questioned the accuser's character, implying she only filed the complaint to get attention and show her fiancé that other men are interested in her. He said he looked through her Facebook page and Twitter account and found she drank alcohol underage, wore skimpy bikinis, bragged about cheating on a high school test, danced provocatively with other women and received hugs from other men.

"Who in HR made the decision to recommend and hire this young lady in the first place?" Walker asked. "From a simple review of (her) social media posts about herself, how did we determine that she was the right person to occupy a position in the county manager's office?"

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.

A previous version of this story incorrectly said that the Catoosa County Commission voted 4-0 to hire Walker because Commissioner Bobby Winters did not vote. In fact, Walker did vote despite not participating in the job interview, making the vote 5-0.

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