DeKalb commissioners approve $420K settlement in whistleblower lawsuit

Former procurement officer alleged corruption in watershed management

DeKalb commissioners approved Tuesday a $420,000 settlement in a whistleblower lawsuit brought by a former county employee.

The settlement is still to be finalized in court. But former procurement officer Teresa Slayton — who in her 2018 complaint said she was fired because she alerted officials to bid-rigging, collusion and corruption in the county’s Department of Watershed Management — would receive nearly $228,000 in exchange for dropping the lawsuit.

Her attorneys would receive a little over $192,000.

Slayton’s lawsuit was originally filed in DeKalb County Superior Court before being moved to the U.S. District Court in Atlanta. Online records suggest the case was scheduled to go to trial in January.

The county commission’s discussion of the proposed settlement was held behind closed doors, as is permitted by Georgia law. The county administration declined to provide further comment.

Slayton referred questions to her attorneys, who did not immediately respond to inquiries from the AJC.

According to her suit, Slayton started working as a senior procurement agent for the county in August 2016. She was a team lead for purchases related to the billion-dollar overhaul of the county’s water and sewer systems.

In court documents, Slayton said she was demoted after informing supervisor Warrick Sams and chief procurement officer Talisa Clark about a myriad of issues within the watershed department. Those issues allegedly included a contractor overbilling the county through change orders; another contractor with conflicts of interest within the department; and watershed employees sharing insider information with a company bidding on a multimillion-dollar contract.

Slayton said Clark — who resigned her own position with the county in 2019 — encouraged her to act unethically and declined to promote her when Sams was terminated.

In the first half of 2017, Slayton reportedly met with an FBI agent to discuss her claims. She also complained to the county’s human resources department, the county attorney and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Office.

She was fired in August 2017.

Slayton was making $61,776 at the time she was let go; this week’s proposed settlement would be a little less than the equivalent of four years’ salary.

Accusations of corruption and mismanagement have long swirled around DeKalb’s watershed department and its larger purchasing office, both of which play significant roles in the county’s attempts to address its long-neglected water and sewer systems. And Slayton’s March 2018 lawsuit was filed at a tumultuous time.

It came just a few days after a massive water main break caused outages across DeKalb. Then-DWM director Scott Towler had also resigned shortly beforehand, alleging he had been encouraged to engage in “unlawful activities.” County officials denied that charge.

Towler later filed his own lawsuit against the county, which was settled last year for around $40,000.

Another high-profile case related to watershed contracts, meanwhile, is currently scheduled to go to trial in February.

Former county commissioner Sharon Barnes Sutton is facing federal bribery and extortion charges, accused of taking a total of $1,000 in bribes from a subcontractor working on a project that documents suggest was the county’s ongoing renovation of the Snapfinger Creek Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The alleged offenses took place in 2014. Barnes Sutton was charged and arrested in 2019.