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Evans: Relationship with Abraham began after vote

DOT chairman resigns, wanted 'more than friendship'

POSTED: April 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.
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State Department of Transportation Board Chairman Mike Evans (left) and DOT commissioner Gena Abraham

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ATLANTA Nearly three months after he survived one of the toughest political battles in state history, State Transportation Board Chairman Mike Evans resigned Thursday over another battle, this one of the heart.

Click at left to hear an exclusive interview with Evans and read his resignation statement. 

Evans, a 47-year-old developer from Cumming, told his fellow DOT board members that a budding romantic relationship with Department of Transportation Commissioner Gena Abraham was "more than friendship," and he could no longer serve as her boss.

But in an interview with The Times, Evans made it clear that his relationship with Abraham did not begin until after his tumultuous re-election on Feb. 1.

"If I had known on the day I was re-elected that this was a possibility, or if it had been something we talked about, I would not have sought re-election,"
Evans said.

He said that he and Abraham joined a few members of the House and Senate on their first public dates. He said they began to realize that the relationship was evolving into something more and met two weeks ago with DOT Vice Chairman Garland Pinholster.

There have been rumors that Abraham has offered her resignation, though Evans declined to confirm that. The DOT board has called a meeting for Monday, and Evans said he hopes the board will support Abraham. The meeting will deal with Abraham’s future in her $175,000-a-year job.

It was the hiring of Abraham that drew the ire of House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram.

Abraham was the hand-picked candidate of Gov. Sonny Perdue. Richardson wanted the job to go to state Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Abraham won by a 7-6 vote after a bitter campaign. Evans voted for her.

What ensued was a politically charged battle pitting Evans, who served in the House from 1993 to 2001, against another former state representative, Stacey Reece of Gainesville.

The race became a clash between Richardson and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Cagle campaigned fiercely for Evans. Both men served in the legislature in their early days.

Cagle enlisted the support of several groups, including the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, which passed a resolution in support of Evans.

In the interview Thursday, Evans said Hall County was instrumental in his re-election.

"I would not have been re-elected without the support of all the folks in Hall County," he said. "I’m sure that leaving without finishing my term will disappoint a lot of people that supported me, including a lot of Hall County business people who I’ll never forget."

With 23 members of the delegation present, Evans defeated Reece by a vote of 13-10 in a caucus of members of the General Assembly from the 9th Congressional District. One member, state Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, was absent, however, the rules require a majority of the votes in the caucus, meaning that Evans needed all 13 votes in order to win.

It was a stinging rebuke for Richardson and was just one of the battles between the House and Senate.

Cagle was in Cobb County at lunchtime for a speech at a manufacturing awards presentation. He declined to comment on the situation, saying he might have something to say later in the day. A spokeswoman said Cagle would not comment on the situation.

A spokesman for Perdue said the governor was in Texas participating in a forum on sustainable energy and would reserve comment until early today.

It was a month after the re-election that
Evans and Abraham began dating. They realized in March that the relationship might be something more, Evans said.

Evans said he and Abraham approached Pinholster two weeks ago to decide how to handle the matter. The board was informed Wednesday and met in executive session for almost two hours Thursday morning before Evans announced his resignation.

"My heart is certainly heavy today," Evans said, noting that he was disappointing allies who had helped him get re-elected.

The revelation of the burgeoning romance left some board members fumbling for words.

"I don’t really know how to talk about a personal relationship," William Kuhlke Jr. said. He praised Evans for handling the issue properly.

But some members were shaking their heads.

"This could not have happened at a more inopportune time," board member David Doss said.

Evans’ sudden departure adds to the tumult at the department, which has a $2 billion annual budget and nearly 5,800 employees. Last week, Perdue announced he had authorized an outside audit of DOT after a preliminary study found that the state has promised about $1 billion more in transportation contracts than it can afford.

"There is a smell that’s not very pleasant about what’s happening and what’s being found there," Perdue said last week.

Evans and Abraham had outlined the fiscal problems last week in a joint news conference.

Abraham, 39, is the first woman to lead the state DOT. She holds a doctorate in civil engineering from Georgia Tech and had served as state property officer.

Both Evans and Abraham are divorced, a DOT spokesman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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