08/20/2018 — Atlanta, Georgia — Georgia Institute of Technology President Bud Peterson talks about the recent ethical changes Georgia Tech is undergoing in his office on the university’s campus in Atlanta, Monday, August 20, 2018. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Georgia Tech president fires another administrator

The housecleaning at Georgia Tech over unethical practices continued Friday, with its president firing its communications director after a complaint that he attempted to hire an unqualified employee for a top position in the department.

President G.P. “Bud” Peterson wrote in his termination letter to Michael Warden that “I no longer have confidence in your ability to effectively lead the office of Institute Communications.”

Georgia Tech received five complaints against Warden, June 25 through July 17, according to a report received Friday by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution through the Georgia Open Records Act. The complaints included that Warden conducted an internal search for a vice president for creative strategy and brand management with a specific employee in mind, while conducting a national search for a similar position.

The employee, Dave Holston, worked in the department as senior director of creative strategy and brand management, but some employees said he didn’t have a college degree and wasn’t effective in his current position. Holston made $116,738 in fiscal year 2017, according to state records.

The investigator, Julia B. Anderson, concluded that complaint about the hiring and another against Warden were substantiated. A search for the vice president for creative strategy position is currently on hold, a university spokeswoman said Friday.

Warden, whose most recent annual salary was $236,340, and Holston were unavailable for comment Friday, said the spokeswoman, Laura Diamond. Warden’s last day on the job is Sept. 14.

Georgia Tech and Peterson have been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks after several investigations exposed ethics abuses and conflicts of interest by four administrators. The abuses included receiving pay from a German company to serve on its board at the same time the company was paid by Georgia Tech for various projects, falsifying time card information to play golf with vendors during work hours and charging after-hours dining and drinking to expense accounts. Peterson last month fired one executive vice president, and three other officials resigned.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Steve Wrigley issued an unusually stern written rebuke on Monday of Peterson, the highest-paid president in the system, telling Tech’s president “you are ultimately responsible.” Peterson has reorganized several areas of his staff and sent a report to Wrigley last week explaining how he’ll improve ethics guidelines at Georgia Tech.

“I will fix this,” Peterson said in an exclusive AJC interview Monday.