Whistleblower: Cobb clerk ordered employee to delete passport records

File Photo: Downtown Marietta, including the Cobb County Superior Court, as seen from above. (courtesy of Cobb County)

File Photo: Downtown Marietta, including the Cobb County Superior Court, as seen from above. (courtesy of Cobb County)

Cobb Superior Court Clerk Connie Taylor allegedly ordered an employee to illegally delete public records so they could not be given to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, according to a whistleblower complaint sent Thursday to the Board of Commissioners.

The complaint says that when accounting manager Maya Curry refused to follow Taylor’s orders and reported it to her supervisor, Taylor threatened Curry, revoked her access to a work computer and sent her home.

On Thursday, County Manager Jackie McMorris told Curry she had been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation, the letter said.

Taylor did not respond to requests for comment Friday afternoon.

The AJC in October filed a request under the Georgia Open Records Act for documents detailing the clerk’s office’s handling of U.S. passport application fees. Those records revealed that Taylor had pocketed $425,000 in passport processing fees since she took office two years ago, including $84,000 charged for expedited shipping that applicants are told is spent on postage.

Under Georgia law, superior court clerks are allowed to keep certain fees paid by passport applicants as personal compensation. But while Taylor’s predecessor, Republican Rebecca Keaton, shared close to half of the processing fees with the county government, Taylor, a Democrat, kept all of it ― in addition to her $170,000 taxpayer-funded salary.

Taylor offered to repay the $84,000 to the county, and a vote was scheduled Thursday for the board to accept the reimbursement. But Taylor withdrew the measure from the agenda that day without warning.

The letter, dated Nov. 17 and sent by whistleblower attorney Stacey Evans, alleges that Taylor retaliated against Curry in violation of state law, which protects public employees from “any adverse employment action” for reporting illegal activity. It warns the county against destroying any evidence involving Curry or the passport fees.

The complaint also casts doubt on Taylor’s claim to the Board of Commissioners this week that she received $84,000 in postage fees “in error.”

In a May 4, 2022, email attached to the complaint, Curry told Taylor that her predecessor kept around half of the fees, and asked if she wanted to adopt the same split as the prior administration.

The complaint said Taylor “chastised” Curry for putting the question in writing, told her not to send any more emails on the subject and said all passport-related money should be sent to Taylor personally.

Taylor also told Curry she was “waiting for guidance from the county,” the letter said. But Ross Cavitt, the county spokesman, told the AJC earlier this month that county finance officials were unaware that Taylor was keeping all of the passport fees.

The letter also includes a report that Curry created in response to the AJC’s records request, showing that the county was owed $86,425 in shipping fees. Curry emailed the document to Taylor on Oct. 12. But it was never provided to the AJC.

A day later, the complaint says Taylor told Curry she had no obligation to respond to the AJC’s records request, because the passport fees were “her money.”

“We’re just going to Donald Trump this thing” and “get rid of” the records requested by the AJC, Taylor said, according to the complaint.

On Oct. 14, the AJC asked Taylor for an update on the records request. On Oct. 17, Taylor said the records would be provided no later than Oct. 21. The AJC did not receive any records until Oct. 27.

Those records, too, call into question Taylor’s account.

On Wednesday she told the Board of Commissioners that an “obsolete system” had bundled the processing fees with the shipping fees together in error.

Images of monthly excel spreadsheets provided to the AJC show that shipping fees were listed as “payable to county” until October 2020. That month, the column header changed to “payable to clerk,” and a footnote was added to the bottom of the sheet: “Currently Clerk gets 100% of passport fees.”

The spreadsheet suggests the change occurred under Keaton, the prior clerk. Attempts to reach Keaton this month have been unsuccessful.

The same footnote continued to appear after Taylor took office in January 2021.

Our reporting:

The AJC submitted an Open Records Request on Oct. 11, seeking financial records pertaining to the Cobb Superior Court Clerk’s handling of passport fees. Those records showed that Clerk Connie Taylor had received $425,000 in fees as personal compensation, far more than her predecessor. After an AJC story published Nov. 4, Taylor offered to repay $84,000 in expedited shipping charges to Cobb County, which she said she was paid to her in error. Those records are now the subject of a complaint from a whistleblower, who says she was ordered by Taylor to illegally delete records, and was then retaliated against when she refused.