Private recording could clear the air in Lysol affair

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Former Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis is in the runoff for the vacant House District 80 seat, which will be decided August 11. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Did state House candidate J. Max Davis try to bully a woman into retracting her sexual harassment allegations against him?

The truth is out there – recorded on a cell phone, actually. But the person who possesses the recording won’t give it up to the public.

Davis, when he was still mayor of Brookhaven, allegedly went into Executive Assistant Faz Gonzalez’ office and tried to “intimidate and coerce” her into saying she never saw him spray an aerosol air freshener on a woman’s buttocks, according to city correspondence describing Gonzalez’ complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Former Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis denies trying to coerce a female employee into retracting sexual harassment allegations against him. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Former Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis denies trying to coerce a female employee into retracting sexual harassment allegations against him. Turns out, the exchange was recorded. BRANT SANDERLIN / BSANDERLIN@AJC.COM

Davis has told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he did no such thing, that he was just shocked to hear that he’d been accused of sexual harassment and he wanted to know what Gonzalez thought she saw him do.

Turns out, Gonzalez recorded the exchange. The AJC tried to obtain the audio through an open records request, arguing it’s a public record generated by a city employee on city time inside a city facility. But interim City Attorney Chris Balch said Gonzalez wouldn’t confirm that she recorded anything, much less hand anything over.

This week, Balch confirmed the recording’s existence to online Brookhaven Post, but said fat chance of obtaining it. From the Post:

According to Balch, “Any recording she [Gonzalez] made, and I have only been told that she has recordings, were made as an individual, using her personal cell phone and at her lawyer’s suggestion. Such recordings are not, as defined by law, public records.”

Balch also said that if the City were to try to demand Gonzalez produce the recordings, it may result in additional allegations of retaliation. He said asking her for the recordings could also give Gonzalez’s lawyer grounds for complaint that the City is attempting to gather his work product, which Balch says “is protected by law from disclosure.”

With voters deciding on Tuesday whether Davis should replace Mike Jacobs as their House District 80 representative, the recording could shed light on his truthfulness. The same goes for Gonzalez. Gonzalez, after all, is the one who insisted she saw Davis spray the other woman’s posterior, according to internal documents that the AJC obtained after an open records dispute with the city.

The sprayed woman wasn’t facing Davis at the time and, in the released documents, said she knew he sprayed Lysol behind her back and she felt “surprised and embarrassed.”

Davis insists he never aimed for the woman’s backside, that he only sprayed the can into the air to see what it smelled like.

In another Brookhaven development, the City Council released records this week of the closed meeting where former City Attorney Tom Kurrie advised them they could withhold a key document concerning the harassment allegations.

Closed session Brookhaven

At the time, Kurrie had released only an altered and heavily-redacted email that omitted words such as “buttocks” and “sexual harassment.” It took four weeks and a litany of back-and-forth emails with the AJC for the city to finally release the email and other records. Kurrie’s own investigative notes showed his and Davis’ news release on the issue had been misleading when it stated that “neither of the employees involved claimed or inferred that this incident involving the mayor was sexual or harassing in nature.”

Kurrie has since resigned to avoid being fired.

The city is now trying to repair its image through transparency. The meeting records show council members were aware of the allegations against the mayor and could have ended the subterfuge sooner.


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