The longtime boss of the 21st Century Partnership is suing the Georgia National Guard, contending that she was fired for blowing the whistle on repeated misconduct, including the misuse of National Guard money and resources.
MaryTherese Grabowski filed the lawsuit Thursday in Cobb County Superior Court. Also known as MaryTherese Tebbe, she left WMAZ-TV to lead the partnership from 2006 to 2012.
Grabowski sued the Georgia National Guard, the Georgia Department of Defense and their leader, Adj. Gen. Jim Butterworth, claiming that Butterworth and Grabowski’s former boss, Russel Carlson, “were trying to get rid of her in retaliation for her repeated objections to Butterworth’s unlawful and unethical conduct and her refusal to go along with conduct that she believed constituted violations of law, rules, and regulations,” according to the lawsuit.
Among other claims, Grabowski said Butterworth insisted on going to the Paris Air Show in 2013, even after the Air Force said it wouldn’t participate. Grabowski’s lawsuit claims Butterworth said he’d attend as a guest of Gov. Nathan Deal, but he stayed longer than Deal at a substantial cost to the Georgia National Guard.
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The lawsuit said Grabowski repeatedly talked to an attorney with the Guard Judge Advocate General about the Paris Air Show trip and consulted on other matters. The lawsuit does not say what, if any, position the JAG office held on Butterworth’s plans.
Grabowski said she was hired to keep Butterworth from making the same kind of mistakes that drew attention from Atlanta’s FOX 5 television station, when he used Army National Guard Black Hawk helicopters to travel to public events. The Georgia Department of Defense had to reimburse the Army for some of those flights, the lawsuit said.
Grabowski was hired in March 2012 as the director of public affairs. Her lawsuit said she was fired in August 2013, after expecting to work as a deputy to a military officer who’d been appointed as director of public affairs. Instead of getting the final paperwork for the new position, the lawsuit said, she was told “the transition to her new position was not working out, notwithstanding the emails she had received commending her performance.”
Grabowski said she was also improperly told to bar FOX 5 from events. The lawsuit said some of those events violated federal rules, such as a barbecue tied to a cancer fundraiser, which was held at a guard facility and involved static displays of aircraft, equipment and a rock climbing wall normally used for recruitment events.
The lawsuit said the National Guard also increased the amount it paid to the Atlanta Braves after Butterworth invited dozens of people to a suite at a game, in violation of rules that prohibited members of the military from accepting tickets valued at more than $35.
In a statement, the Georgia Department of Defense said Grabowski was “was not fired for any behavior protected by the Whistle Blower statute or other state or federal laws.” Her advice against involvement in the fundraisers “was considered, did not reflect negatively on Ms Grabowski, and was not the basis for her termination,” according to the statement from Grabowski’s replacement, Lt. Col. Thomas Lesnieski. The agency said it was not commenting on the case.
Grabowski is represented by Kimberly Worth and Katy Aultman of Atlanta. Aultman said they are not commenting on the case.
To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.