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Published: Wednesday, 8/25/2010

USDA official forced to resign won't return


WASHINGTON - Ousted U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod said Tuesday that she will not return to the department in a new role.

"I need to take a break from some of all I've had to deal with in the last few weeks," Ms. Sherrod said at a news conference at Agriculture Department headquarters.

She said she hopes to maintain "some kind of relationship" with the department.

Ms. Sherrod met in Washington with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"I think I can be helpful to him if I just take a little break and can be more helpful in the future," she said.

The job offers included deputy director at the Office of Advocacy and Outreach, which would have been in Washington, and a senior position in USDA's Georgia office.

She turned down both.

Ms. Sherrod said Mr. Vilsack had pressed her hard to return to the agency. She said she wanted to take time for her family and to answer the thousands of letters she has received.

"I only lasted 11 months but I did enjoy the work and would like to see that work continue," Ms. Sherrod said of her position with the government, which ended abruptly in July when she said she got a call from Agriculture Undersecretary Cheryl Cook.

Ms. Sherrod said Ms. Cook told her that the White House wanted her to quit and Ms. Cook asked Ms. Sherrod to pull off to the side of the road and e-mail a letter of resignation.

"I just don't think that at this point I can do that," Ms. Sherrod said of a return to the Agriculture Department. "I look forward to some type of relationship with the department in the future. We do need to work on issues of discrimination and racism in this country."

She said she had forgiven Mr. Vilsack and understands that the department will implement new procedures for the treatment of employees, but she does not want to be the one it is tested on.

Mr. Vilsack and Ms. Sherrod spoke by phone several times in recent weeks to discuss her return, according to Agriculture Department officials. Mr. Vilsack and President Obama both apologized to her.

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