Brookhaven city officials deny that a photographer at the city’s Cherry Blossom Festival was a “political hire,” as the city’s former communications director has claimed.
“That’s completely false,” Mayor J. Max Davis said April 10. “I’ve spoken to everyone on council. None of us knew this man before he starting showing up at events.”
Did any member of the council say photographer Nelson Jones should be hired during the city’s Cherry Blossom Festival? “Nobody did,” Davis said.
Davis said the claim that Jones was hired for political reasons was “shocking to all of us.”
City Councilman Bates Mattison also said members of the council were not involved in hiring the photographer. “Hiring and firing is at the direction of the city manager,” he said. “The only person we get involved with is the city manager herself.”
And, in an email, City Councilwoman Rebecca Williams wrote, “The photographer was hired by [city Tourism Director] Mike Vescio, Tourism director. No one on council knew or recommended him. “
Rosemary Taylor, the city’s former communications director, was relieved of her duties after a confrontation with Jones last month during the city’s initial Cherry Blossom Festival. At the time, Jones was photographing two teenaged models to the festival.
Jones has claimed in media accounts that Taylor said the two teen models, one African-American and one Asian, did not properly represent the image the city wanted to project. Jones said he and the two teens interpreted her statement to be about the models’ races. Taylor has said her remarks were not about race, but about the way the teens were dressed.
Brookhaven City Manager Marie Garrett said in a statement released April 7 that Taylor had been relieved of her duties “after she exhibited conduct unbecoming of a city employee” during the festival.
The city is continuing to investigate the incident. A report should be completed next week, a city spokeswoman said.
In a prepared statement she released April 9, Taylor said she was told by the city’s tourism manager that Jones was “a political hire” and that he had been paid in advance for the work. “I thought the advance payment was unusual and when asked for specifics on the ‘political hire,’ the tourism manager simply said that the mayor and council knew him,” Taylor said in her statement.
Attempts to contact Brookhaven Tourism Manager Mike Vescio for comment were not successful Friday.
Mattison said the dispute is giving the city an unfortunate and undeserved reputation when it comes to race relations.
“It has created an appearance … of racial views in our city that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” he said. “From Day One, we’ve been very sensitive [on matters of race]. Our city has a very diverse population. We’re about one-third white, one-third Hispanic and Latino and one-third other. As leaders of the city, we have always been sensitive to that diversity. We feel it is an asset to our city.”