The attorneys for county employee Charlene Miles — who alleged in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Rome last week that Ridley committed sexual discrimination and harassment toward her and that Starnes and Murray County government were complicit — countered a press release from Starnes by saying Starnes breached a confidentiality agreement. They claimed he is trying to salvage his political candidacy for the sole commissioner seat that will be voted on June 21.
Starnes said late Tuesday afternoon any question about the breaching of an agreement would have to be discussed with the county’s attorneys.
One of Miles’ attorneys, McCracken Poston, said it was “Ridley himself” who first brought up his resignation.
Poston said he contacted Greg Kinnamon — who was a fellow legislator in the Georgia House of Representatives a few years ago and now serves as counsel for Murray County government — “as a courtesy.”
Poston said he told Kinnamon of the claims Miles made when she first came to him and fellow attorney Stuart James, and Kinnamon agreed to talk to Ridley and demand he move Miles away from his outer office and back to her former office. He also advised Ridley he should only communicate county business with her by email, Poston added.
Poston said Ridley’s response was to call Miles into his office and “berate” her for an hour for filing a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in April against Ridley and county government, alleging Ridley “forced her to have oral sex, constantly subjected her to sexual harassment and viewed pornography on her office computer.” After receiving a “right to sue” letter from the EEOC, Poston and James filed the lawsuit.
“We had a client working in ‘the war zone’ and the idea was to go hand (Kinnamon) a copy of the complaint, tell him it was happening and get assurances from (Kinnamon) that she would be protected,” Poston said. “Instead, Ridley asked her to come into his office, shuts the door and berates her for over an hour. It’s the angriest I’ve been in a long time (when I heard of it). It was Ridley, during that hour, who not only confessed to everything, but who offered to resign.”
Asked if Miles had the office visit on tape, Poston laughed and said, “No comment.”
“He’s the one who brought up the resignation,” Poston said. “It was Ridley himself — who alternatively cried, confessed, offered to resign — and tried to settle the thing right then and there.”
Poston said Miles, a 29-year county employee, has suffered with uterine cancer in the last year and was concerned she would lose her medical benefits if Ridley fired her for not agreeing to his demands.
“She was scared to death with what the situation would be if she needed long-term insurance and treatment,” he said, “and that caused this to last a lot longer than it should have. But it’s understandable to me.”
James said Starnes “breached” an agreement that had been hammered out between the parties.
“Mr. Starnes has breached the confidentiality agreement, which I’m really disappointed (in),” he said. “Second, there were settlement negotiations, and as a part of those ... negotiations there was an agreement for Commissioner Ridley to resign. We discussed the allegations we are making in the complaint ... and (Ridley), as we were going through settlement negotiations agreed ... and he did, in fact, resign.
“In terms of the monetary amount, we did make in excess of a $1 million demand upon the county. That demand was sent over to Travelers Insurance for Travelers to consider. We wanted to keep everything in terms of the allegations against Mr. Ridley as confidential as we possibly could. Travelers could not agree to a settlement ... and I don’t know where we are right now (in settling the claim), because the lawsuit’s just been filed. I’m sure there’ll be further discussions along those lines.”
Starnes said in the press release he had “no such direct knowledge” of the circumstances regarding Ridley and Miles.
“Ms. Miles never complained to me about inappropriate interactions, and any allegations that she did is incorrect,” he said. “I had no such knowledge that Ms. Miles was contending that she was subject to any inappropriate interaction with Mr. Ridley.”
“Tom seems to be going off into some really strange areas with his comments,” Poston said. “It’s almost as if he’s afraid of guilt by association, and perhaps he feels the need to start lashing out.”
Starnes said after he became interim commissioner he hired an independent investigator — Chuck Bachman, an Atlanta employment attorney — to “review all of the allegations” to “determine exactly what occurred” between Ridley and Miles.
“I thought this was a prudent decision and was the best way to get to the bottom of the situation without having to wait literally years for this matter to work its way through the courts,” Starnes said.
He said Miles’ attorneys “refused” to meet with Bachman.
“I would urge Ms. Miles and her attorneys to reconsider that decision and cooperate with the investigation,” Starnes said. “I eagerly await Mr. Bachman’s report and recommendations.”
Poston and James said there was no way they would allow Bachman to interview Miles without either of them present, during her working hours and while “discovery” was taking place in the court case.
Starnes said Miles continues to work for the county and continues to perform her job with “no other issues.”
“The county respects Ms. Miles’ right to assert allegations made in good faith and to pursue her legal rights,” he said. “The county will not engage in any type of retaliatory action of any kind toward Ms. Miles or anyone else involved in this matter.”
Since the discrimination charge was filed with the EEOC, Ridley has not answered questions about his resignation.
Press release issued on Tuesday by Murray County Interim Sole Commissioner Tom Starnes
Murray County has received a copy of a lawsuit filed by Charlene Miles. This lawsuit came after she filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, but asked that the commission not complete its investigation so that she could immediately file a federal lawsuit.
We believe it is important for all citizens to recognize that Ms. Miles’ allegations exclusively concern her interaction with former commissioner David Ridley. Mr. Ridley resigned his position shortly after Ms. Miles’ attorneys made clear they would publicize her claims if an agreement was not reached to pay her $1.3 million. In an effort to determine exactly what occurred, after I became interim county commissioner, I made the decision to hire an independent investigator to review all of the allegations so that I could learn the actual facts of this matter. I thought this was a prudent decision and was the best way to get to the bottom of the situation without having to wait literally years for this matter to work its way through the courts.
Since that time, the independent investigator, Mr. Chuck Bachman, who is a respected employment law attorney, has been meeting with individuals who may have knowledge of the allegations made by Ms. Miles. It is my understanding that Ms. Miles and her attorneys have refused to meet with Mr. Bachman, while Mr. Ridley and his attorney have indicated that they will cooperate with Mr. Bachman’s investigation. I would urge Ms. Miles and her attorneys to reconsider that decision and cooperate with the investigation. I eagerly await Mr. Bachman’s report and recommendations.
In the meantime, I believe it also is important for all citizens to know that Ms. Miles continues to be employed by the county. Since Mr. Ridley’s resignation, she continues to perform her job, and there have been no other issues regarding her employment.
I also want to specifically address any concerns that I had any direct knowledge of the circumstances regarding Ms. Miles’ claims prior to her making a formal complaint. I had no such direct knowledge that Ms. Miles was contending that she was subject to any inappropriate interaction with Mr. Ridley. Ms. Miles never complained to me about inappropriate interactions, and any allegation that she did is incorrect.
Finally, I want to emphasize that the county respects Ms. Miles’ right to assert allegations made in good faith and to pursue her legal rights. The county will not engage in any type of retaliatory action of any kind toward Ms. Miles or anyone else involved in this matter. If any such allegations are made, I will have them reviewed and make an appropriate decision.
I appreciate that everyone is anxious for a definitive conclusion to this matter. I, too, am interested to learn the actual facts of this situation. However, I do not believe it is useful to rush the process or to attempt to use the media to put undue pressure on anyone. I do not anticipate making any further public comment on this matter until I receive Mr. Bachman’s report. At that time, we will apprise the citizens and taxpayers of the outcome of the investigation.
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