DeKalb COO Fired Amid Charges of Improper Relationship With Subordinate

Megan Matteucci, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 2, 2010

DeKalb County’s CEO fired his second in command Thursday after learning that the official had had an improper relationship with a water department secretary.

As part of his termination, Chief Operating Officer Keith Barker will be paid $100,000–half of his annual salary–making him the second member of CEO Burrell Ellis’ Cabinet to leave within weeks with a sizable severance package.

Based on a tip, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained e-mails, text messages, photographs, cards and phone records documenting his nine-month relationship with Dana TraBue, an administrative assistant in the Watershed Management Department. Following this and other media inquiries, Barker was terminated.

TraBue, who spoke exclusively with the AJC, said Barker had discussed promoting her to a higher-paid position.

“He promised me a better-paying job,” TraBue said. “He kept saying we need to wait for the budget [to be approved].”

TraBue said the relationship was consensual and she has not filed any complaints to the county. She said she broke off the relationship “because I’m tired of him lying to me and it’s a dead-end situation.”

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Barker’s dismissal closely follows the departure of the county’s chief communications officer, Sheila Edwards, who received $45,000 in severance pay in July when she resigned amid controversy over statements she made about a police-involved shooting.

Under the terms of the four-year contract Barker signed in January 2009 for an annual salary of $200,000, he will receive six months of salary and benefits as a result of the termination. According to the contract, which the AJC obtained, the only way he would lose that severance would be if he resigned or was convicted of or pleaded guilty to a felony.

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Barker, who is married, and TraBue, who is single, exchanged several messages, including as recently as last month, talking about which jobs he could get for her, including one in human resources and one as a buyer’s assistant.

County commissioners chastised Barker last week about the advertising of several positions at the performing arts center without the commission’s approval.

One of those jobs was supposed to be for TraBue, she said.

She said Barker would meet her when he was supposed to be at budget meetings, and that they also got together at her house “on county time and when he should have been working.”

TraBue said their relationship started in December when she saw Barker at a county meeting and sent him a friend request on Facebook. He subsequently began sending her e-mails and text messages from his county and personal cell phones, along with Facebook messages.

County cell phone records obtained by the AJC show Barker sent 13 messages from his county phone to TraBue over a three-day period.

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The CEO said he had not conducted any investigations but decided to terminate Barker because of his own admissions and information from the media. Ellis said Barker previously had a good record at work.

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In addition to Barker and Edwards, DeKalb County has also seen a large severance package given to school Superintendent Crawford Lewis. Lewis, who did not fall under Ellis’ supervision, was dismissed by the county school board in April and received an $85,000 payout and an additional $5,000 for a retirement account. Lewis has since been indicted on charges that he ran a criminal enterprise at the school system.

barker

Keith Barker
 

edwards

 

lewis

Sheila Edwards (left); Crawford Lewis (right).

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