South Fulton officials respond to hostile work environment allegations
Metro Atlanta’s latest city continues to be rocked by controversies
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Two metro Atlanta city councilmembers responded Tuesday to allegations from South Fulton’s city manager of creating a hostile work environment.
Helen Willis and Natasha Williams disputed City Manager Tammi Saddler Jones they have engaged in “harassment, abusive behavior and bullying,” as Jones claimed in a Feb. 7, 2023, memo.
“The hostile work environment is not created by Councilwoman Williams and I,” Willis said in an afternoon news conference. “It has gone back to 2021. We’ve been trying to work things out internally.”
Williams and Willis said they have uncovered the city is unable to reconcile $1.9 million in federal CARES Act funding. They said the city has failed to comply with federal regulations regarding $978,633 of Community Development Block Grant funding the city received in FY2021 and FY2022.
“We’ve been trying to understand how it is possible for 1.9 million in federal dollars to be missing,” Williams said Tuesday. “When I asked about whether we are in state compliance, I got no answer.”
Willis and Williams also said “critical information has been withheld from the city council such as a report from the State of Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission documenting deficiencies found at several city development sites, including one notable observation that sediment from the 6400 Fulton Industrial Boulevard project was leaving the site in several locations and entering state waters.
Willis and Williams said Jones’ allegations of bullying, harassment, and a hostile work environment that have been leveled against them are rooted in an attempt by the city manager to deflect from the issues they have been uncovering.
Last week saw the filing of a federal lawsuit alleging some of South Fulton’s top leaders engaged in coverups and misconduct regarding a former top police lieutenant, after an Atlanta News First investigation.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, is centered around allegations that Shannon McKesey, a former South Fulton police officer, pocketed money and mishandled evidence during her time on the force. Now, some of the city’s top leaders are being accused of enabling that alleged misconduct while retaliating against those who called it out.
Joseph King, a former detective, and Tanesha Graham, the city’s former human resources director, filed discrimination charges. Both claim retaliation after raising concerns over McKesey.
In October 2021, King filed a grievance against McKesey. King - previously named South Fulton’s detective of year and recognized as officer of the year across Fulton County, and a decorated law enforcer who faced the most dangerous criminals - wrote he feared Lt. McKesey.
While trying to investigate the claims of misconduct and possible criminal wrongdoing, Graham alleges, “the chief of police and members of the city were pressing the city manager to terminate me because I was allegedly meddling in police business.”
According to an internal memo written by city manager Tammi Saddler Jones and obtained by Atlanta News First Investigates, a councilmember stated Graham was “meddling,” “needs to leave the city,” and that “they’re sick of her.”
Saddler wrote, in the memo, the statements made against Graham were “inappropriate and misplaced.”
An outside agency, the City of Smyrna Police Department, was tasked with investigating complaints about McKesey. It completed its report on July 5, 2022, and documented at least 18 South Fulton law enforcement officials accusing McKesey of hostility, lying, mishandling evidence, or other misconduct.
The document includes reports from officers who allege McKesey requested them to buy her alcohol on the job, and officers alleging they saw her drinking on duty. They claim the lieutenant called colleagues racial and derogatory slurs, as well as discrepancies when she would seize money and property.
While the investigation was ongoing, officers who had spoken out against McKesey said they experienced retaliation.
South Fulton Police Chief Keith Meadows denies knowing about complaints McKesey leveraged their friendship as a fear tactic.
In an internal memo she wrote while she was the city’s HR director, Graham alleged the chief’s response included “bullying tactics repeatedly in emails and in conversations” as well as asking for a list of the employees.
McKesey resigned from the department last year in lieu of termination. She is under an ongoing criminal investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
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