Brooklyn Congressman Calls for Probe on Firing of Shirley Sherrod

Demands Sec. Vilsak appear to explain what went wrong

By Juan DeJesus
|  Thursday, Jul 22, 2010  |  Updated 6:32 PM EDT
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 Brooklyn Congressman Calls for Probe on Firing of Shirley Sherrod

Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

WASHINGTON - MARCH 11: House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-NY) makes an opening statement before hearing testimony from Neel Kashkari, acting interim assistant secretary for financial stabilization at the Treasury Department, on Capitol Hill March 11, 2009 in Washington, DC. Kashkari answered questions about the TARP, or Troubled Asset Relief Program, and heard complaints from both Republicans and Democrats that few people know where exactly the money is being spent. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Rep. Edolphus “Ed” Towns is calling on  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to appear before a Congressional Committee to explain just what went wrong in the firing of former USDA staffer Shirley Sherrod.

“Ms. Sherrod was vilified in the press and her professional reputation called into question, and that is deeply troubling,” Towns, a Brooklyn Democrat  -- and the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform -- wrote in a letter to Vilsack.

Sherrod resigned as the Georgia state director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture late Monday night after a misleading video surfaced of her delivering a speech before the NAACP in which her remarks seemed to conflict with the department’s “zero tolerance” policy for discrimination.

Vilsack called Rep. Towns yesterday to discuss the decision to request Ms. Sherrod’s resignation.  However, in the hours after the discussion Rep. Towns has come to believe that “details have emerged” that warrant an investigation. 

“To prevent this kind of incident from happening again, we must ensure that the Department’s actions with regard to employees are based on the facts,” said Towns in a letter to Secretary Vilsack.

“It is also important that the Department have in place a personnel process that ensures fact-based decision making,”  Towns wrote.

Towns requested that Vilsack and his staff schedule a “comprehensive briefing as soon as possible” to fully understand the circumstances surrounding Sherrod’s termination.

“To condemn Ms. Sherrod without full knowledge of her remarks is unjust, especially when it appears the message she was trying to convey was one of reconciliation,” said Towns who represents the Flatlands section Brooklyn. 

Requests for comment from the United States Department of Agriculture have not yet been returned for comment. No date has been established for the briefing between the committee and the USDA. 

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the main investigative committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. Their powers give them jurisdiction to investigate any federal program and any matter with federal policy implications.

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