Brookhaven, GA, June 15, 2015 – by Trey Benton – For the past two months Brookhaven officials have been involved in an intentional and orchestrated attempt to cover up records documenting a City employee’s claim of sexual harassment against former Mayor J. Max Davis.
The complaint against Davis was reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on May 13th, when Brookhaven spokeswoman Megan Matteucci, confirmed that a complaint of sexual harassment had been made against Davis by a City employee. But, neither the identity of the employee or details of the alleged incident were disclosed. Matteucci also confirmed City Attorney Tom Kurrie was investigating the matter.
In an effort to refute the AJC’s report that a sexual harassment allegation existed, both Davis and Kurrie released statements denying any incidents of sexual harassment had occurred or that any investigation of sexual harassment was being conducted.
On May 13th, the City released a statement from Kurrie, “There is not presently nor was there any investigation of sexual harassment being conducted by the City of Brookhaven. Furthermore, there has been no claim or complaint filed by anyone, employee or otherwise, alleging sexual harassment by the Mayor.”
And, in an exclusive interview with The Post, Davis completely denied the allegation saying, “It is unfortunate the term ‘sexual harassment’ was ever spoken to the media. This incident was never about that and neither of the parties present ever claimed or made that accusation.”
In addition to their statements, Kurrie released a heavily-redacted paragraph taken from an email sent by City Manager Marie Garrett to Human Resources Director Rick Stone. Although many of the details in the email were redacted by Kurrie, it describes an incident reported to Garrett, by two female employee’s where one of the women “was sprayed with Lysol by the Mayor.”
Initially, the portion of Garrett’s email was all the City would release.
The Post and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution made numerous requests for the release of Garrett’s entire un-redacted email, but were repeatedly stonewalled and given a litany of excuses by Kurrie as to why it would not be released.
The Post continued to hound City Officials to explain why they had illegally altered Garrett’s email, which is a public record, and requested the release all records relating to the incident (un-redacted and in their entirety), as required under the Georgia Open Records Act.
Finally, but only after threatening to file a complaint with the Attorney General, did the City comply and release the emails, investigation notes and investigative report, which describe the Lysol incident as “sexual harassment”.
According to the newly released records, when Kurrie and Davis released statements on May 13th denying any sexual harassment complaint, both were fully aware that Davis’ behavior had been described by two City employees as “sexual harassment” and Kurrie was actively investigating the matter.
The newly released records also show Kurrie had intentionally edited, altered and redacted the portion of Garrett’s email for the purpose of concealing information which would be embarrassing to both Davis and the City — and that he had specifically redacted the words “sexual harassment.”
Kurrie’s own investigation notes show on April 28th, he interviewed an employee who told him Davis’ actions left her “embarrassed and humiliated” and “she considered the Mayor’s action to be sexual harassment.”
Also included in Kurrie’s report, is a less-redacted copy of Garrett’s email to Stone. The details previously redacted from Garrett’s email reveal that a female employee was, “sprayed with Lysol by the Mayor and directed at [redacted] buttocks.” Garrett also wrote, “This is unacceptable behavior and I believe that the Mayor took a liberty and crossed the line doing something that I consider to be sexual harassment.”
When questioned about why the City made the decision to alter public records and cover-up the Davis incident, Councilman Bates Mattison told The Post, “In hindsight, it would have been a whole lot easier for everybody if everything was turned over all at once. I still want to protect the names of the employees involved because I don’t see the public benefit from disclosing them. We need to be cognizant of the Laws, but that’s what we have a City Attorney for.” Mattison said the City also weighed the costs of litigation which also factored in to the City’s release of the documents.
Councilman Joe Gebbia told The Post, “I’ve asked for a review of our Ethics Policy and whether there is something we could, or should be doing to prevent things like this from happening. When I found out about the documents I told the Council that it should be disclosed immediately.”
We asked Kurrie as the City Attorney, if his legal advice outweighs the authority of the Council to make a decision of its own to not follow his recommendation. He said, his job is to give advice, and the Council members decide whether or not to follow it.
After having been briefed by Kurrie on the issue, Councilman John Park sent emails to both Kurrie and the Council expressing concern over the City’s refusal to disclose the records. Park said in a statement, “I believed that the City of Brookhaven was not in compliance with the Open Records act. I asserted that my name should not have been redacted because, as an elected official, I have no right to privacy and I have nothing to hide.”
Mayor Rebecca Chase-Williams said she doesn’t think the Davis incident was a cover-up. “I take exception with [The Post] calling this a ‘cover-up’,” said Williams. “Compiling Open Records takes time and we don’t work around your schedule.”
The Post explained to Williams that we expect nothing other than what the Open Records Laws dictate. Had the City decided to follow those Laws, we would have received what we asked for months ago.
The eventual disclosure of the unedited and unaltered documents was made only after several challenges to Kurrie’s rationale by the media and after he sought further legal advice from his colleagues. Had the media not pressed so hard to have the complete unedited and unaltered records disclosed, although the investigative report redactions are still being challenged, we would have never received them.
Choosing to conduct the public’s business in this manner, does not bode well if the City’s desire is to win the public’s trust. And, it leaves The Post to ask the question, “What else have we asked for that the City has chosen to withhold simply because we didn’t push back this hard?”
Note: The City of Brookhaven has never adopted a Sexual Harassment Policy, and as a result, does not have one in place.
For more on this topic, see the AJC story here.