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Rumors of Evans-Abraham DOT romance surfaced in November, Rep. Carl Rogers says
DOT board reprimands commissioner, but she keeps her job
DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham

State Rep. Carl Rogers began hearing it in November.

The rumors were flying about a relationship between then-transportation board Chairman Mike Evans and Gena Abraham, the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation.

"I was told about some things going on, and I knew they would surface. I just didn’t know when," Rogers said. "They had been seen together, and I couldn’t give you any particulars."

His comments followed the decision of the DOT board to reprimand Abraham for her admission of a romantic relationship with Evans, who stepped down from his appointed post last week.

Rogers said the decision to reprimand and not fire Abraham was what he expected.

"I’m not surprised after the governor’s press conference and the lieutenant governor standing with him," Rogers said.

Gov. Sonny Perdue and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a Chestnut Mountain Republican, held a joint news conference Friday giving their public support for Abraham. Perdue has said he still thinks Abraham is the right person for the job.

But Rogers, a member of the House Transportation Committee, said Abraham has expressed to him distrust for DOT employees, and he believes there will be a residual fallout from the episode with Evans.

"I believe going forward she’s going to be a big distraction," Rogers said. "The media will stay on top of this, and I don’t see it being healthy for the department and its employees."

Rogers said he believes Abraham is getting her directives from outside the agency.

"I think she is doing what she’s been told to do," he said. "She’s concentrating on the financial end of it."

Rogers disputes the need for a forensic audit of the agency, which estimates a budgetary shortfall of $1 billion on pending projects amid allegations of sloppy project management. "I personally don’t agree that we need to spend $15 million on an audit when we could be using that money to take care of the shortfall and build a few bridges and roads," Rogers said.

Meanwhile, the names of a possible replacement for Evans continue to surface.

Among them, Phillip Neff, a Dalton businessman and Republican who has served as deputy treasurer of the state Republican Party.

Neff told The Times on Monday that he was very interested in serving on the State Transportation Board.

"I feel I am a good consensus candidate," Neff said. He said that he does not want to see another acrimonious situation like Evans’ re-election bid in early February, when House Speaker Glenn Richardson tried to oust Evans.

"I have supported both the governor and Speaker Richardson," he said. "I switched from Ralph Reed to Casey (Cagle)."

Also mentioned is former state Sen. Steve Farrow, who served two terms in the state Senate as a Democrat from Dalton. However, Farrow was at the 9th District GOP convention in Cleveland on Saturday.

His office said Farrow, an attorney, was in court Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Neff said he and Farrow had agreed not to oppose one another for the post.

Another candidate mentioned is Ray Seipp, a Lookout Mountain City Council member. A call to Seipp’s home was not returned on Monday.

Seipp lives in the district of state Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Rogers admitted that he has an interest in the DOT board position, but plans to qualify for re-election to his House district next week.

The same is true for state Sen. Eugene "Chip" Pearson, R-Dawsonville, who announced Monday that he would be a candidate for re-election.

The other names mentioned from the eastern portion of the district are former state Rep. Stacey Reece, R-Gainesville, and current state Rep. Ben Bridges, R-Cleveland. Bridges announced at the end of the session that he would not seek re-election to the House.