Probe finds no proof of racial discrimination by ex-DeKalb ethics boss

An independent investigation found that allegations of racial bias against now-former DeKalb County ethics officer Stacey Kalberman “appear to be unsubstantiated.”

The investigation also found no evidence to support claims that members of the county ethics board retaliated against deputy ethics officer LaTonya Nix Wiley for bringing the complaint against Kalberman, or that they intentionally delayed looking into the matter.

The probe was completed by attorneys from the local employment law firm McFadden Davis LLC, which the ethics board hired to investigate Wiley’s claims. The firm’s findings were provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Friday.

ExploreAllegations of racial bias spark disarray at DeKalb ethics office

Wiley, who has been on paid administrative leave since earlier this year, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday. Current ethics board chair Alex Joseph declined to comment as well.

Kalberman — who left her position with DeKalb in February, shortly before her six-year term as ethics officer was set to expire — has previously denied the allegations against her and maintained that her departure was unrelated.

“I believe the ethics board went out of its way to ensure that the investigation was fair to all parties,” she told the AJC on Monday.

The role of ethics officer is an important one that includes providing ethics training to thousands of DeKalb County employees and officials, as well as investigating allegations of wrongdoing and bringing the findings to the ethics board. The board is ultimately tasked with making rulings and doling out punishments when necessary.

Kalberman, who is white, had served as ethics officer since the board’s original inception in 2016.

Wiley, who is Black, lodged her initial complaint against Kalberman in October 2021, but it didn’t become public until the AJC reported on it in April.

Wiley accused her boss of failing to respond appropriately to racist or insensitive comments made by other people in her presence, as well as making statements of her own that Wiley felt were “deeply rooted in negative stereotypes about Black people.”

Investigators found that the examples Wiley provided to back up her claims were “highly subjective and unrelated to Ms. Wiley herself.”

Wiley also claimed Kalberman failed to act when a white subordinate subjected her to “a constant stream of slights, indignities and outright disrespect.”

The report, meanwhile, found that both Kalberman and Wiley addressed the behavior of that subordinate, a now-former administrator in the ethics office, in her 2018 and 2019 performance reviews. The administrator was also placed on a “performance improvement plan” in 2020.

The office’s current ethics administrator, who is Black, told investigators that she did not observe Kalberman treat Wiley differently than anyone else. The administrator, Kristin Rodgers, said she had a “wonderful” working relationship with Kalberman and “did not observe or perceive any racial bias.”

Wiley later filed an additional complaint arguing that the ethics board retaliated against her for making accusations against Kalberman. She also accused certain board members of deliberately delaying an investigation into her complaints.

The outside investigators, who interviewed board members and reviewed emails and other documents, found those claims to be unsubstantiated as well. Their report attributed any delays to the fact that the board is a volunteer-led entity that meets only once a month, and said that there was confusion among board members about how to proceed with this type of complaint.

It wasn’t until April that the county law department recommended an outside investigation.

Wiley has since filed a separate claim with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, reiterating many of her original accusations while also claiming the ethics board’s decision to place her on leave was “retaliatory and unlawful.”

The ethics board’s attorney filed a response to that charge earlier this month, arguing that Wiley has failed to “point to any specific action ... that she claims is adverse based on her race or sex.”

Attorney Bonnie Levine wrote that Wiley’s EEOC filing instead described the ethics board’s “painstaking (and ongoing) efforts to avoid actions that Ms. Wiley would misconstrue as retaliatory.”

While the fate of that complaint — and perhaps Wiley’s future employment — remain unclear, the ethics board will soon have a replacement for Kalberman.

The board voted in May to hire Elisa Murphy as the county’s new ethics officer. By law, the county commission had to ratify the hiring as well. They did so only last month, after questions about potential conflicts of interest led to weeks of delay.

CEO Michael Thurmond recently signed off as well, paving the way for Murphy — a former judge and educator from Ohio — to officially start her new role on Oct. 3.

By that point, ethics oversight in DeKalb will have been effectively hamstrung for almost eight months.