Bates Mattison
Bates Mattison

Saying they wanted to avoid the appearance of a City Hall cover up, members of Brookhaven City Council have voted to release several private documents related to internal discussions about the actions of city officials.

“This is our action to show we have nothing to hide,” Councilman Bates Mattison said. “I hope it gives the citizens of Brookhaven some peace … [and] that this matter can be put to bed once and for all.”

The city on July 8 released minutes of council discussions conducted in closed meetings on May 26, June 9 and June 16, and an email between former City Attorney Tom Kurrie to Councilman John Park and copied to other members of the council.

New City Attorney Christopher Balch recommended that the executive session minutes not be released, but said lawyers he had surveyed were divided on whether the release was proper. “There is no firm, clear answer to this question,” he said.

“We are taking this issue and making it far bigger than it really is,” Mattison said. “Let’s put this information out there to the public and move on.”

Kurrie resigned during the June 16 meeting and the documents released July 8 include a copy of his handwritten letter of resignation.

Kurrie’s resignation was announced at the end of the June 16 council meeting. At the time, Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams said, “It was clear the majority of council was quite unhappy and dismayed at his handling of recent open records cases.”

The executive session minutes released July 8 related to Kurrie’s advice to the council over records requests from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Brookhaven Post regarding an employee complaint against former Mayor J. Max Davis.

References to other subjects discussed during the meetings were redacted from the documents.

Several council members said they felt the city had been embarrassed publicly by the situation.

On May 26, Kurrie told council members records were not subject to release. “He explained his opinion that the information was not subject to open records. The situation was privacy,” the minutes say.

Then, on June 9, the minutes say Kurrie “had gone to third parties and consulted with partners, and he recommended disclosing documents but redacting employees’ names for privacy.”

In resigning June 16, Kurrie said he “had worked hard for the city and had done a lot of good work.”
“He wished he had done differently, but did not think he had done anything wrong,” the minutes say.

On July 7, the council also heard a report from new City Attorney Christopher Balch that he and other lawyers saw no problem with the procedure followed during the June 9 election of Williams as mayor and Linley Jones to the District 1 seat on council that Williams had held previously.

Williams was elected mayor by the council after Davis resigned to run for the vacant District 80 seat in the state House of Representatives. Some in the community had questioned whether Williams had failed to resign her council seat before her election as mayor, meaning she held two offices simultaneously, which would be prohibited by the city charter.

Some council members questioned whether the city should hold a “do-over” for the election, raising questions about the matters considered by the council since Williams’ election as mayor.

Balch said he and lawyers from the state Attorney General’s office and the Georgia Municipal Association all agreed that Williams vacated her council seat automatically when she was elected mayor. “We have concluded Mayor Williams did not hold two offices at one time,” he said.

“I’m personally glad for this opinion,” Williams said. “We like to know we’re legal.”

But lawyer Aubrey Villines, who originally raised the question and who attended the July 7 meeting, wasn’t convinced. “We just want to make sure that whatever Brookhaven does is legal,” he said.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.