Brookhaven attorney who withheld records quits to avoid firing

Brookhaven City Attorney Tom Kurrie has resigned, avoiding termination by the city council for misleading the public about sexual harassment allegations against the former mayor.

Kurrie quit during a closed session of council Tuesday, one day after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the online Brookhaven Post revealed that he and ex-Mayor J. Max Davis put out a news release containing false statements.

Kurrie also released an altered city document describing Davis’ allegedly inappropriate behavior, with the eighth paragraph of an email moved to the top to make the message appear much shorter. Heavy redactions clouded details of two women’s complaint — that Davis allegedly sprayed one of them in the buttocks with Lysol, making her “very upset.”

Contrary to state open records laws, Kurrie withheld the full document and other records from the public for weeks, just as Davis was embarking on his current run for the state House District 80 seat vacated by Mike Jacobs. Davis denies aiming the can of air freshener at the woman’s backside, saying he only sprayed it into the air to see what it smelled like.

New Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams said there was strong sentiment among council members to fire Kurrie. The obfuscation caused the city to lose residents’ trust, which is unacceptable, she said.

“On the issue of open records and the sunshine laws, there’s just no room for error,” Williams said. “The majority of council was not happy with Tom Kurrie’s handling of this.”

City records, released Friday after an open records battle with the AJC and the Brookhaven Post, say that both the sprayed woman and a witness reported Davis to the city manager the day after the February incident. The witness later said that "she considered the mayor's action to be sexual harassment," according to Kurrie's investigative notes.

“(The witness) said it was an act that was unprofessional and disrespectful and she was embarrassed and humiliated,” Kurrie’s notes say.

City Manager Marie Garrett offered a similar assessment in an email to Human Resources Director Rick Stone, saying, “I believe that the Mayor took a liberty and crossed the line doing something that I consider to be sexual harassment.”

Nevertheless, when the AJC began asking questions about the complaint, Kurrie and Davis worked together on a May 13 news release that cleared the mayor of wrongdoing and said, “Neither of the employees involved claimed or inferred that this incident involving the mayor was sexual or harassing in nature.”

Later in the news release, Kurrie is quoted saying, “There has been no claim or complaint filed by anyone, employee or otherwise, alleging sexual harassment by the mayor.”

Kurrie did not return calls from the AJC on Wednesday, but in a written statement said “it became clear to me that I did not have the support of the new mayor and the newest council members. “I do want to state that I am proud of the service I provided to the citizens of Brookhaven,” Kurrie said, “and I do not believe I have done anything to violate their trust.”

In an earlier interview with the AJC, Kurrie stood by his statement in May. He said that the complaint about the incident did not constitute an official claim of sexual harassment.

Davis also stands by the news release, saying it reflected what he knew to be true at the time. Though the former mayor was aware Garrett considered his alleged actions sexual harassment, he said the city manager also told him that neither of the two women used those terms.

Davis said he didn’t know the witness had characterized the incident that way. Kurrie should have told him, he said.

“I think that’s the crux of the issue,” Davis said. “I can’t speak for him as to why he didn’t remember that or didn’t tell me about that at that time.”

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