Atlanta HR commissioner placed on leave over nepotism allegations

Human Resources Commissioner Tarlesha Smith (City of Atlanta)

The City of Atlanta has placed its human resources commissioner on administrative leave while it investigates accusations of nepotism.

Officials have confirmed an ongoing investigation by the city's Law Department into Commissioner Tarlesha Smith.

According to a report obtained by FOX 5, the Office of the Inspector General investigation began in April 2023 over an allegation that Smith created a city position for her daughter and then tried to have her daughter's supervisor terminated.

In the report, Smith is accused of creating a full-time position with the Office of the City Solicitor specifically for her daughter in the fall of 2022.

"City staff expedited the daughter’s onboarding process, skipping elements of her background check and disregarding her ineligibility," the report reads. "She did not receive an employment or education verification. She was not interviewed. She did not meet the minimum qualifications of the position."

When Smith's daughter reportedly began to be late and absent from her work due to her supervisor, OCS Director of Administration Jennifer Johnson, denying her request to telework, officials say Johnson recommended that she be fired.

Instead, the report says the Department of Human Resources began to investigate Johnson, placed her on administrative leave, and told her department head that she would be terminated.

"The department head, who had worked with the supervisor for more than 25 years and who could not recall a single complaint against the supervisor, requested that DHR provide him with documentation to support this action — a copy of the complaint against the supervisor and a copy of DHR’s investigative findings," the report reads. "DHR provided no documentation."

Former city of Atlanta employees described concerning working conditions

The investigation also revealed additional concerns about Smith's "unprofessionalism" and "deviation from human resources standards."

In one case, a former employee told investigators that Smith "established a ‘kiss the ring’ culture" where employees had to defer to her in order to receive favorable treatment. The employee also said that staff were required to attend all of Smith's presentations and "wear color-coded clothing."

The employee described the situation in the human resources department like "a gang" that would exclude people who did not fall in line.

Another former employee described Smith as "as quick to anger and difficult to forgive" and that she had "frequent outbursts."

HR commissioner placed on leave

Following the report, a City of Atlanta spokesperson said Smith was placed on administrative leave while City Law handles its independent investigation and interviews additional employees.

"We want to ensure we have a comprehensive review of the facts," the spokesperson said.

The city has also asked the Law Department to develop an updated policy related to immediate family members.