With gossip swirling around the Franklin County Auditor's office about an inappropriate relationship, auditor Clarence Mingo asked his former Chief of Staff to leave, only to rehire her months later in a consulting role.
"My former Chief of Staff, Jerzell Pierre-Louis, and I worked together for some time," said Mingo. "There was a misunderstanding between us that was facilitated by third parties. That misunderstanding was resolved. She and I have been friends for many, many, many years. We chose not to allow that to affect our working relationship."
An attorney representing Pierre-Louis said his client was terminated from her position after she complained about complaints that had been given to her about the auditor's conduct.
"She complained about the conduct, and from her perspective, was retaliated against and terminated. And that's the story. She did nothing more than complain of protected activity and did it because she felt it was in the best interest in the office," explained Attorney Rex Elliot.
Several sources close to Mingo's staff say rumors swirled around the office for months about a relationship between Mingo and Pierre-Louis. Elliot said suggestions that there were rumors about a relationship between Pierre-Louis and Mingo are not true.
After three years as Chief of Staff, Mingo asked Pierre-Louis to leave in January 2013.
Mingo would not say whether he fired her.
"I don't know if my decision to change leadership in my office constitutes a termination," said Mingo. "What I will tell you is that Jerzell and I sat down immediately and worked through that misunderstanding and immediately identified that third parties had facilitated this. We've resumed our friendship and working relationship."
Several months after she left the office, Mingo hired Pierre-Louis as a consultant. Mingo acknowledges that her six-month contract included a salary of $135,000. Her contract also specified that she cannot speak about her role in the Auditor's office.
Elliot said Pierre-Louis had threatened to take legal action. "She sent a letter from me, which has been the subject of the news stories, outlining her allegations. Then over the course of several months, there were a lot of discussions with the auditor and an agreement was reached where by Jerzell would continue on a very important project for the auditor's office, and complete that project, and do that as a contractor and not come back on a full time basis, which is what the auditor wanted her to do," Elliot explained.
Mingo does not deny that taxpayers could question the timing of her leaving his official office and her rehiring as a consultant just months later.
"I certainly can appreciate that question and the optics of that situation," said Mingo. "Jerzell at this hour is performing very meaningful work on behalf of our office. She presided over our reappraisal process in 2011. This year, I decided to select someone who is familiar with the process, who knows the staff and who knows our community. Jerzell was well suited to that. She was the most capable person that I can identify to take the burden off of our staff of doing that work. We let a contractor do it who was capable of doing it and she's performed admirably to date."
Pierre-Louis was Mingo's second Chief of Staff. His first, Anthony Frissora, left the office in 2011 after allegations of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a subordinate.
"I think people can draw two inferences from that," said Mingo. "The first Chief of Staff that I had was a good man but a holdover from the previous administration. There was an issue there and that did constitute a termination. At the end of 2012, concerning Jerzell, I made several staffing changes in the office. One affected her, but did not reflect on her performance. It's not a reflection on our working relationship, but a decision by me to simply take the leadership of the office in a different direction."
"There was a dispute, there was discussions of how to resolve the dispute, and this is one of the situations where, the resolution is really benefiting everybody, including the county," Elliot said.
10 Investigates has requested all public correspondence between Pierre-Louis and Mingo. That request is ongoing.
Mingo's entire interview will be aired Sunday on Capitol Square.