Update: Aftermath of G. Duke Beasley’s Appointment

Update: Aftermath of G. Duke Beasley’s Appointment

By Ginny Looney

Vol. 1, No. 8, 1979, pp. 20-21

The appointment of G. Duke Beasley last summer as the first administrator of the Georgia Office of Fair Employment Practices had appeared a safe choice for Gov. George Busbee. Yet, with surprising swiftness the director fell into disfavor and has now endangered the future of the state fair employment office.

Beasley’s experience as deputy director of the Atlanta office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, touted as the main reason for his selection, had shown that conciliation rather than litigation would be his way of settling discrimination complaints. In an interview last July, Beasley portrayed himself as a hardworking, God-fearing family man who possessed a moralistic fervor for his mission of providing equal job opportunities for minorities and women in state government. He did not lack confidence. “I predict that within 60 days we will be the most viable staff that the state has because of my own personality and how I manage,” he said. A few people did criticize him as simply a tired bureaucrat,” but most were pleased with his selection.

The praises of Duke Beasley, however, have ended. Widespread dissatisfaction with his work has caused supporters of the fair employment office to look forward to his return in July to the federal government, which had given him a year’s leave of absence with pay to set up the state organization. Beasley had offended state department heads, for example, with his cavalier attitude. In sending a questionnaire to them requesting information on minority employment, Beasley had ordered the material returned by a certain date, a deadline which the governor’s office postponed because not enough time was allowed for collection of the statistics.

Busbee has privately been critical of Beasley’s efforts to expand the scope of the fair employment office beyond its legal responsibilities. While the agency is empowered to prevent discrimination in employment in state government, Beasley has attempted to exert authority over employment discrimination by local governments, state licensing boards, state contractors and private business.

State legislators were incensed over the annual report the agency issued in February. Several Black legislators were upset because the report did not adequately deal with discrimination in state government. One White legislator introduced a resolution reprimanding Beasley for publishing the report because it was a “complete and utter waste of taxpayers’ money.” The resolution was withdrawn only upon the request of the governor’s office.

Legislators objected to the report’s many photographs unrelated to the work of the office; had they read the document closely, they might have been more angered by the sermonic messages aimed at them. “The General Assembly, it would appear, is obligated to put an end to this intentional procrastination,” the report says about the delayed response of state agencies charged with discrimination, “by giving the GOFEP perpetual life.”

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The report’s poor format, garbled language and preachy tone lend credence to the complaints about the administrator’s style and performance. Rather than presenting persuasive arguments for a prolonged and expanded Georgia Office of Fair Employment Practices, as was intended, the report obscures the problem of discrimination and diverts attention from the issue of equal opportunity. If, as one legislator said, the 72-page report (plus a 16-page preface) “looks like a high school annual,” its writing reflects the style of the senior voted

“Most School Spirit.” Under the heading “Something To Think About . . .” inspirational quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Vince Lombardi were dispersed throughout the agency’s 18-page affirmative action plan, which was presented “in a ‘can do’ spirit and format.”

The lack of modesty is equaled only by the absence of information in a readable form about the office’s work. Personal histories and the families of staff have more space in the document than the charges processed through the office. In a section entitled “Behind the Scene: Youth in Limbo Reaching Out,” there are nine pages of photographs of the staff’s children, including one page devoted to a photograph and description of Beasley’s daughter. “Like her Texas born mother, Kristy is a very proud, highly intelligent and beautiful lady,” says the report. Also scattered through it are seven pages of pictures and biographies of staff members.

In contrast, only five pages of charts list the 153 complaints filed with the office and the disposition of 130 of those. The charts are not explained in the text, although several pages describing the compliance process do disclose that only one case has not been resolved through conciliation.

More attention is given to the plans and recommendations of the agency for the future than in detailing its past accomplishments. The report attempts to justify the expansion of the agency into nine additional cities, a move which would cost more than twice the present budget. This “appropriation package” has apparently gone unheeded since no additional funds were allocated.

Essays, letters and photographs from activists for the handicapped, aged and Hispanics about the need for the fair employment office fill II pages; full-page photographs with adjoining congratulatory letters from state officials were found on eight pages; six pages of letters are reproduced to illustrate that the state office attempted to establish cooperative agreements with federal agencies. Still unclear is the purpose of a three-page letter from the Ohio Civil Rights Commission which analyzes the Georgia law.

A self-serving image presented in the document (“With the innate ability of foresight and vision, the Administrator has outlined an improvement package…”)is matched by the report’s high-handed tone. “The exemption of certain public employees (of elected officials) from the benefit of the Law, appears on its facade to be arbitrary and capricious, therefore, should be invalidated.” On another subject, the report said, “Undoubtedly this grave conflict must not be tolerated by the General Assembly.”

Such commandments tend to lessen the credibility of legitimate recommendations for amending and enforcing the law. The fair employment office requests that it be a!lowed to hire outside counsel or establish its own legal department to eliminate the conflict of interest created when the attorney general represents both an individual filing a complaint and the agency being challenged in a hearing. The conflict arose when Artis Heard and the Human Resources Department could not agree on a negotiated settlement to Heard’s complaint. During the administrative hearing on the case, “(t)he attorney general’s office immediately began to attack the position that the Administrator had taken” in its defense of the state agency, the report says, pointing out that state attorneys would have to adopt “a Solomon-like posture” in violation of their code of ethics in representing both sides at a hearing.

While remaining silent on the subject of conflicts of interest, the attorney general issued an opinion in March stating that the fair employment office could not conduct a study on discrimination in hiring and promotions in state government and must limit itself to responding only to individual complaints filed with the office. The opinion effectively restricts any affirmative work on overall problems of discrimination. As a result, the Black legislative caucus has announced that it will challenge the opinion in court.

Although the law calls for a nine-member advisory board, Busbee has not yet appointed anyone to the position. The legislation creating the Office of Fair Employment Practices expires in 1980, and at this point it will take more than mere advice to restore the agency’s credibility. Moving quickly to expand its authority even before proving its competency, the agency may have told too much about itself when the report concluded that “Until equal employment opportunity becomes a shared reality in this state … Blacks, other minorities, and females must maintain their unyielding faith in God!”

Ginny Looney, a former newspaper reporter, is now a researcher in Atlanta.