Former DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones on March 24 denied a scheme to remove White managers and replace them with Blacks, testifying in federal court he wanted the best employees that reflected the county’s population.
Jones, who was CEO from 2000 to 2008 and is now running for Congress, took the stand in a 2004 discrimination case brought by four former county Parks and Recreation Department managers against him and four other former employees. In the trial that began Monday, March 22, in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, lawyers for the plaintiffs said Becky Kelley, John Drake andMichael Bryant were forced out of their jobs because they were White, and that Herbert Lowe, a Black deputy director, was fired because he failed to “dig up dirt” on them.
Jones said he knew when he took office that there was talk among the staff about him wanting to get rid of White employees. He said he told department heads that wasn’t true. He did want employees “that reflected our community” -- Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, gay, straight, Democrat and Republican, he said.
“Diversity is good. I believed in it then. I believe in it now,” he told the mostly White jury.
But Lowe testified that Jones was clear in his mistrust of Whites and was concerned that White managers were leaking negative information about the county to the press. Jones especially wanted to put more Blacks in the parks department, Lowe said.
“Jones said, ‘Black folks voted for me. White folks didn’t vote for me,’” Lowe testified.
Lowe said three of the defendants, Marilyn Boyd Drew, Morris Williams and Joe Stone, who are Black, frequently used racial epithets to refer to the White parks managers and excluded them from meetings. Drew was director of the department at the time; Williams was assistant county administrator and Stone was director of human resources.
The plaintiffs also sued Richard Stogner, who served as executive assistant to the CEO, and is White. All were sued as individuals and as county employees.
On cross-examination, defense attorneys took aim at Lowe to discredit him as a witness, bringing up errors on his job application that he acknowledged but couldn’t explain and portraying him as a man who had trouble holding down a job and being “a team player.”
A key piece of evidence in the trial is a 2003 voice-mail recording that the plaintiffs’ attorneys played for the jury on Tuesday. In the profanity-laced recording, Stone is complaining to Williams that the new fire chief, David Foster, was trying to promote White firefighters to battalion chief and there was no way Jones would agree to it.
“‘He wants to pick ‘em from a population that is solid snow White already. Now he got to cut that [expletive] out with Vernon,’” Stone said, according to a transcript.
In the phone call, Stone says that Jones told the fire chief to consider Black battalion chiefs from College Park and other fire departments outside the county.
When asked about the content of the conversation, Jones said he remembered talking with Foster about promotions in the fire department but told the court, “I’m sure I could have said, ‘David, go on recruiting trips. There’s some good people out there.’”
Jones said the language Williams used on the tape was “deplorable,” and Stogner said he reprimanded Stone and Williams in May 2006 after the conversation came to light in a deposition. But despite years of litigation, lawyers for the plaintiffs said the reprimand memos were only produced Monday night.
Judge William S. Duffey Jr. told the defense attorneys that the failure to discover those documents until so recently was “very hard to understand and very hard to accept.
“There are really significant issues with these not having been produced, and I am very surprised,” Duffey said.
Defense attorney Rob Remar told the judge his team made the documents available as soon as they became aware of them.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys expected to finish calling witnesses on March 25.