City officials violated the state’s “sunshine” laws in their handling of a request for information about an investigation of a complaint concerning the city’s former mayor, the state Attorney General’s office has determined.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo wrote to new City Attorney Christopher Balch on July 20 that the city had violated state Open Records and Open Meeting acts in its handling of the release of an email from City Manager Marie Garrett to Human Resources Director Rick Stone.

The city at first improperly refused to release the email, which had been requested by Trey Benton, editor of the Brookhaven Post, and later released an improperly redacted version of the email, Colangelo wrote. The city violated the Open Meetings Act when City Council wrongly discussed the email in a closed meeting, she said.

“[The law] does allow executive sessions to be used to discuss the contents of records that are exempted from disclosure under the Open Records Act,” she wrote in her letter. “However … the email was not exempted from disclosure and therefore should not have been discussed in executive session.”

Colangelo concluded the latter by asking that the city release any other documents related to the issue.

“We have not been hit with any sanctions,” Balch told council members on July 21.

Garrett’s email related to an incident in which former Mayor J. Max Davis had sprayed an aerosol can “in the vicinity of two city employees,” a city news release said. Davis later described the incident as “a silly joke.”

At the time, the city denied there was any investigation of sexual harassment connected to the event. In her email, Garrett said she thought the incident was an act of sexual harassment.

Council members said that the documents have all been released. In the aftermath of the release of the documents, former City Attorney Tom Kurrie resigned and was replaced by Balch.

“We have to rely on the advice of our attorneys. That’s what we pay them for,” Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams said. “I think we got some bad advice…I feel badly that this happened.”

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.