WARNER ROBINS, Ga. — A Warner Robins city employee says city development director Gary Lee libeled her, slandered her and falsely her accused of crimes--and says the city wrongly retaliated against her for cooperating with law enforcement investigations.
Kimberly Black, originally an employee in the Economic Development department, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Macon against Lee and the city, which you can read in its entirety below.
Her lawsuit says she started in Lee's economic development office in 2016, and the next year she became a project manager.
Now, city employee Kimberly Black says the city has kept her out of her job in Lee's office for nearly a year.
Over that time, Black says, the city shuffled her between various odd jobs with city government. At one point, she alleges she was assigned to work in an old train station where she was the only person in the building.
She's asking a federal judge to order the city to let her return to her job and pay her at least $350,000 in damages.
City Attorney Jim Elliott was noncommittal about the merits of her case, saying his office was still in the fact-finding phase.
"I don't want to give a blanket denial because I don't think it would be appropriate for the city to do so at this stage because we don't know what records are out there. We don't want to say 'absolutely nothing is out there' and then something is produced later that would not be in the city's best interest," said Elliott. "Likewise I don't think it would be appropriate to admit anything because again we don't know what the source of these allegation are."
Last year, she says, Lee accused her of falsifying documents. The suit alleges that investigators cleared Black of any crimes last June.
After that happened, her suit says she contacted the city through its human resources director, Toni Graham, to learn more about what was happening. The city allegedly said an investigation was under way because "Gary Lee refused to take a random drug and alcohol test."
Emails obtained in an open records request show Lee was asked by the city's risk manager to submit to a random drug and alcohol screening in early June 2018.
Though he noted he does not have firsthand knowledge of the incident, City Attorney Jim Elliott said he believes Lee never took the test.
"I don't believe he ever took...a drug and alcohol test," said Elliott. "I've heard that but I don't have firsthand knowledge of it."
Black's lawsuit also claims that eventually the FBI questioned her about Lee.
The suit doesn't describe what they talked about, but she says Lee has a “vendetta” against her because she supplied information about him to the GBI and FBI.
Elliott said as far as he knows, the FBI is not conducting any investigations into the city or its employees but "they don't have to notify anybody when they're doing some sort of investigation."
When contacted over the phone FBI spokesperson Kevin Rowson said, per agency policy, he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.
Gary Lee's lawyer Preston Haliburton released the following statement on behalf of his client:
"We are proud of Kimberly for her courageous position of standing up for herself against the City and apparently the mayor and others. As the facts unfold we believe it will add more clarity. My client's position is that he has never formally accused her of a crime nor has he ever given a sworn statement against her or regarding her to that effect.
While my client considers and appreciates Ms. Black as a friend and coworker, he is not allowed to communicate with her due to bond conditions. It can be derived by some to believe that someone with the City made the unfortunate decision to require her to work in a separate building from my client. To be clear, that decision was not made or influenced by Gary Lee.
An objective look at the facts of this matter guides out [sic] understanding of how Ms. Black's position will ultimately support our case against the wrongful suspension and whistle blower retaliation suffered by Gary Lee in his capacity as a City employee, land owner and taxpayer. In closing, it should be embarrassing to the responsible elected and appointed officials who have enabled the use of tactics against my client over the last year that appear to resemble Dukes of Hazard and Boss Hog going after the Duke boys.
Gary Lee and his family love the ability to be public servants in the great City of Warner Robins and they will continually do so honorably."
A Houston County grand jury in March indicted Lee on two counts of falsely reporting a crime and one count of making a false statement.
Mayor Randy Toms suspended him without pay, but Mayor Pro-Tem Keith Lauritsen overturned that this month and Lee is now back at work.
Mayor Randy Toms did not return WMAZ's request for comment.
Toni Graham, when reached by phone, declined to comment.
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