Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ousted worker Sherrod rejects return to Agriculture agency

Tuesday 8/24/10
Ousted worker Sherrod rejects return to Ag agency

Shirley Sherrod, ousted from the Agriculture Department during a racial firestorm that embarrassed the Obama administration, rejected an offer to return to the USDA on Tuesday. But at a cordial news conference with the man who asked her to leave — Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack — she said she may do consulting work for him on racial issues.

She was asked to leave her job as Georgia's director of rural development in July after comments she made in March were misconstrued as racist. She has since received numerous apologies from the administration, including from President Barack Obama himself, and Vilsack asked her to return. But she said at the news conference with a clearly disappointed Vilsack that she did not think she could say yes to a job "at this point, with all that has happened."...

"I look forward to some type of relationship with the department in the future," said Sherrod, who is black. "We do need to work on the issues of discrimination and race in this country."

Vilsack had asked her to become the deputy director of the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, a new position designed to bolster the department's shaky record on civil rights. He had also given her a chance to return to her former job. Both of them said Tuesday Sherrod may return to the department as a consultant once an ongoing review of the department's efforts on race issues is completed.

...He said a consulting job may work better for Sherrod, who was concerned about assuming administrative duties like budgeting. She said she was reluctant to be responsible for the weighty duties of the position she was offered...

Sherrod was forced to resign after conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted an edited version of a March speech in which said she was initially reluctant to help a white farmer save his farm more than two decades ago, long before she worked for USDA. Vilsack and others, including the NAACP, condemned the remarks before grasping the full context of her speech, which was meant as a lesson in racial healing.

...The USDA has a long history of discrimination of black farmers who sought out loans and other aid, and the government this year settled a second round of damages stemming from a class-action lawsuit originally settled in 1999.

The department also released a list of recommendations stemming from an internal investigation into the Sherrod controversy on Tuesday. Vilsack blogged on the USDA website that "we need to improve protocols for internal communications at the department, and create a set of safeguards to avoid the sort of hasty action which led to the mishandling of the matter with Mrs. Sherrod."

Associated Press writer Ben Evans contributed to this report.

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