The city of Brookhaven’s former communications director says race had nothing to do with her complaints about two models that led to her firing. Instead, Rosemary Taylor said she thought the teen models being photographed during the city’s Cherry Blossom Festival were dressed inappropriately to represent a family event.
“What I said was, ‘This is not the image Brookhaven wanted.’ It had nothing to do with ethnicity,” Taylor said in a telephone interview April 9. “If those two girls have been blonde and dressed that way, I would have had the same reaction.”
Brookhaven City Manager Marie Garrett said in a statement released April 7 that Taylor had been released from her duties “after she exhibited conduct unbecoming of a city employee” during the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival.
In local media accounts, photographer Nelson Jones has been quoted as saying he and the two models he brought to the festival to photograph understood Taylor’s complaints to be based on race. In local media accounts, the models have been identified as an African-American teen and an Asian teen.
In a prepared statement she released April 9, Taylor said, “Let me say this clearly – racism had absolutely nothing to do with my interactions with the photographer and his hired models at the recent Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival.”
During the interview, Taylor described the models as “two sexy girls.”
“Maybe I had too refined a taste,” she said. “It has nothing to do with race. To me, it was a total misrepresentation of the festival. I never said anything about race. It was all about taste.”
In her statement, Taylor said she thought the complaints against her stemmed from retaliation by the photographer, who was hired by the city’s tourism department to photograph the Cherry Blossom Festival before Taylor started her job with the city. Taylor said she was told that the photographer was “a political hire” who knew elected city officials and had been paid in advance to photograph the festival.
“I believe strongly that when I complained about this photographer’s work and the tourism manager said he would not hire him again, that the photographer saw the end of his money from the city and blamed me,” she said in her statement. “Thus, a completely fabricated racism accusation towards me, while generating tons of publicity for the photographer and his models.
“Anyone who knows me knows that this accusation is untrue. My main concern was for the city of Brookhaven when I saw a blatant misuse of the festival brand and potential waste of city funds. I stick to my professional decision behind the reasons not to utilize the photographer’s services.”
Taylor said she did not understand why Jones brought the models to the festival. Usually, she said, a client is asked to approve a model before an event. Taylor said she felt it was part of her job to make sure “everything related to the [city’s] brand” was carefully controlled.
“Every little thing matters,” she said. “I kept asking [Jones], ‘Why are the models here?”
Taylor said she has consulted with lawyers about her firing. She said she was “trying to come out of the shock” after the publicity surrounding her dismissal. “It’s extremely embarrassing,” she said.
Here’s her statement, in full:
4/9/15 Statement from Rosemary Taylor regarding
alleged incident at the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival
Let me say this clearly – racism had absolutely nothing to do with my interactions with the photographer and his hired models at the recent Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival. It all had to do with a lack of professionalism on behalf of the photographer, a conflict of interest, misuse of city funds and money spent unnecessarily.
The photographer, Nelson Jones, was hired in advance of me coming to the city. The tourism manager told me Mr. Jones was a “political hire” and that he had been paid in advance for all three days of the festival plus a precluding kick-off party.
I thought the advance payment was unusual and when I asked for specifics on the “political hire” the tourism manager simply said that the mayor and council knew him. He later said he had worked with the photographer at a motel chain when he worked in that industry.
On viewing the photographer’s work from the kick-off party, the event producer, communications manager, and I agreed that the quality of the photos was simply not acceptable. We decided to hire another photographer at extra cost to assure we had photos from the festival that were of magazine quality for publicity purposes.
In no discussions with anyone in the city’s communications department was the subject of hiring models raised prior to the event. If it had, we would have nixed that idea immediately because a park filled with thousands of people provides enough opportunities for good, authentic photos — a standard industry practice —without hiring models to stage anything. In my professional opinion, it simply wasn’t necessary.
When I questioned him about the models and why he was posing them in the festival’s VIP tent, against the festival’s branding, etc., as if it was a photo shoot, he got agitated and defensive. My mistake was getting agitated back, as he continued to tell me he was the official photographer and he had hired top models and this was going to be good for the city. I told him it wasn’t and that it was not what we wanted. It was simply a matter of the photographer not honoring the requests of what we needed for future publicity use — authentic photos of attendees at the event.
In various articles, the photographer has said he was “photographing the models for a separate promotion of his own company, and he was not planning on handing those photos over to the city.”
If that was indeed the case, then he shouldn’t be asking for reimbursement for his models…and, in fact, he should return part of his advance pay to the city as he wasn’t really doing our work. He showed up several hours late on top of all this. Bringing models for his own promotional purposes was a conflict of interest.
I believe strongly that when I complained about this this photographer’s work and the tourism manager said he would not hire him again, that the photographer saw the end of his money from the city and blamed me. Thus, a completely fabricated racism accusation towards me, while generating tons of publicity for the photographer and his models.
Anyone who knows me knows that this accusation is untrue. My main concern was for the City of Brookhaven when I saw a blatant misuse of the festival brand and potential waste of city funds. I stick to my professional decision behind the reasons not to utilize the photographer’s services.