Reed announces new director, strategy for AWDA

Mayor Kasim Reed has named Michael Sterling the permanent director of the embattled Atlanta Workforce Development Agency.

The announcement, made during an event with U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez on Friday, apparently came as a surprise to both local politicos and to Sterling.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Reed said he made the decision when he “got up on stage.”

“He’s been getting great results, the staff loves him and morale is up,” Reed said.

The mayor later added: “I am confident that Michael will ensure that the important work of this vital agency is continued and will lead the agency on a path that restores confidence, transparency and fiscal responsibility to the organization.”

Sterling has served as AWDA’s interim director since May following an AJC investigation that uncovered mismanagement and abuse of public tax dollars. The AJC found that the agency had squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars on meager or worthless training. Longtime director Deborah Lum retired following the newspaper’s findings. Lum was paid $140,000 annually.

Almost immediately, Reed tapped Sterling to lead the department. His administration said it would conduct a national search for a permanent replacement. Reed spokeswoman Anne Torres said the mayor changed course because of Sterling’s performance.

Sterling, a former assistant U.S. attorney, is leading AWDA while it’s under investigation by federal authorities for its spending.

The new director has already begun overhauling parts of the agency. Documents obtained by The AJC reveal that more than a dozen AWDA employees have been fired, resigned or retired since May. Sterling said Friday that he’s instituted new management and recruited employees from the state’s labor department.

“I look forward to making AWDA what it should be for the City of Atlanta,” said Sterling, who joined Reed’s staff in 2011 as a senior adviser.

The mayor also announced Friday that he’s hired organizational consultants Maher & Maher to develop new economic and workforce development strategies for the agency.

Sterling’s appointment is the latest staffing change at City Hall. Reed recently named Michael Geisler as the city’s chief operating officer, Samir Saini as commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Anne Torres as the director of communications.

The mayor has yet to name a permanent replacement for former parks commissioner George Dusenbury, who left earlier this year.The administration also must name a new Invest Atlanta executive director. Former head Brian McGowan left in March to join the Metro Atlanta Chamber.

Sterling’s appointment must be confirmed by the Atlanta City Council.