Kennesaw Hall is shown on the campus of Kennesaw State University. AJC FILE PHOTO
Photo: Jason Getz
Photo: Jason Getz

Former Kennesaw State official violated policies, report finds

Kennesaw State University released a report Friday that concluded its former chief information officer violated several management policies and didn’t treat her employees in ways consistent with the University System of Georgia’s core values.

Some employees said Lectra Lawhorne “publicly humiliated or bullied” them and the work environment was “toxic and hostile.”

The redacted executive summary by KSU’s chief auditor is the most recent bad news in a string of problems that have beset KSU, the third-largest public university in Georgia.

The auditor found KSU hired an employee who had previously been incarcerated for theft. Lawhorne initially said she didn’t know about the person’s criminal history, but she later recalls the person mentioning a prior brush with the law, the report said. KSU also found Lawhorne erred by allowing a subordinate not to work for an entire month but still be paid an extra $750 for that month and the next four months for work on projects for the University System of Georgia. The other employees were not named.

“Taken together, these violations demonstrate a failure of effective and ethical leadership by Ms. Lawhorne,” the summary said.

Lawhorne, who submitted a resignation letter last week, told KSU administrators in a memo included in the report she didn’t know the employee was a convicted felon, was unaware another employee was falsifying time records and “was unaware of any employees who were displeased with my management style.”

Lawhorne resigned due to serious health issues, her attorney, Clifford Weiss, said Friday afternoon. Weiss said her client and the university did nothing wrong.

“We just don’t think the complaints are credible or true,” Weiss said in a telephone interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The university’s chief auditor began its investigation in January after its human resources department received a staff complaint that Lawhorne falsified records and showed a “lack of judgment” in hiring.

This school year has been rough for KSU. Its president, Sam Olens, resigned last month after the University System took him to task for KSU’s management of student national-anthem protests. Earlier this week, a group of students sued the university over claims that KSU intentionally made it difficult for the students to bring a guest speaker to campus because of the group and speaker’s conservative beliefs. It’s the second such lawsuit in a month against the growing university.

Lawhorne was named interim CIO in June 2016 after several administrators were fired for ethics policy violations. The “interim” title was removed in January 2017. Her most recent 12-month salary was $222,346, according to state records.

Lawhorne contradicted herself a few times during the investigation, offering more details only after subsequent interviews, the report said. For example, she initially said she was unaware of one employee’s criminal history. The report said she later recalled the worker mentioning probation.

Additionally, investigators said Lawhorne initially claimed she did not recall an executive director who reports to her being gone the month of March 2017. In later interviews, the report said Lawhorne said she remembered the employee was out of the office. Lawhorne said she gave her leadership team autonomy and flex time because they frequently worked late nights and weekends.

The report said employees disputed Lawhorne’s claims that she gave them autonomy, describing the work environment “stifling to innovation.” One employee claimed Lawhorne called an employee who was out of town at a funeral, insisting she needed a revised organizational chart as soon as possible.

Weiss rejected the claims that Lawhorne created a difficult working environment. He noted Lawhorne was selected for the University System’s Executive Leadership Institute and her peers gave “universally positive” comments in anonymous feedback.

KSU interim president Ken Harmon announced Friday that Jeff Delaney will become interim Chief Information Officer.

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