Inside City Hall: HR head on leave after report finds abuse of power

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Tarlesha Smith will serve as the Commissioner of the Department of Human Resources for the city of Atlanta, Mayor Andre Dickens announced Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. (City of Atlanta)

Credit: City of Atlanta

Credit: City of Atlanta

Tarlesha Smith will serve as the Commissioner of the Department of Human Resources for the city of Atlanta, Mayor Andre Dickens announced Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. (City of Atlanta)

Atlanta’s Department of Human Resources head Tarlesha Smith is on administrative leave after an investigation from the city’s inspector general found that Smith abused her authority by creating a staff position for her daughter in December 2022.

The report released last week alleges that Smith created a compliance analyst position within the Office of the City Solicitor for her daughter, Bridget Smith, before the position was publicly advertised and despite not having interviewed for the role. The job came with a nearly $52,000 yearly salary.

The investigation further found that Smith retaliated against a supervisor who raised concerns about the daughter’s hiring, qualifications and work ethic.

“The department then contacted (Department of Human Resources) to terminate the daughter,” the report says. “The daughter was not terminated; rather, (Department of Human Resources) initiated an investigation into the supervisor.”

When asked for a comment on the findings, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said that Smith has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of another internal investigation into the allegations, and that additional actions against other employees may be coming.

“We have assigned the matter to City Law for an independent investigation,” the mayor’s office said. “As the report indicated, there were several employees that were not interviewed, and we want to ensure we have a comprehensive review of the facts.”

The inspector general report details that Smith’s daughter was expedited through the hiring process, skipped background check steps, did not meet the job qualifications and listed false information about her education and employment in application materials.

Employees interviewed during the probe said they questioned the daughter’s qualifications and were concerned when they discovered the job in the city solicitor’s office was created for Smith’s daughter.

When the daughter’s supervisor, city solicitor director of administration Jennifer Johnson, did not allow her to work remotely during the four-week training period, the report says, “the daughter became disengaged from her work and exhibited tardiness and absenteeism.”

Johnson then attempted to terminate Smith’s daughter for “job abandonment” but was instead placed on administrative leave and almost terminated, herself.

“Nepotism and retaliation have no place in City of Atlanta government,” Inspector General Shannon K. Manigault said in a statement about the report.

The investigation materialized greater concerns about Smith’s “unprofessionalism.”

One former employee “stated that the (Department of Human Resources) commissioner was unapproachable and established a ‘kiss the ring’ culture in (the department) where employees had to show deference to the commissioner in order to garner favor.”

The inspector general’s office also detailed pushback from the Department of Human Resources during the investigation, stating that the department withheld records requested during the probe and was unable to interview other employees throughout the investigation.

In response, the mayor’s office is also requesting the city law department develop recommendations and update citywide policies related to family members “to ensure there is no conflict of interest in the execution of duties.”


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The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's City Hall reporter Riley Bunch poses for a photograph outside of Atlanta City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
Miguel Martinez /

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez