Grievances Filed Against Brooklet Mayor Claim Hostile Work Environment, Requests for Special Treatment

Ten days after the Brooklet City Council issued a directive reiterating the scope and responsibilities of the mayor, the city released the grievances that initiated the action.

The existence of the grievances, filed by two city employees against Mayor Nicky Gwinnett in February, came to public light after City Councilman Jonathan Graham abruptly resigned from office on Friday, March 1. TheGeorgiaVirtue filed an Open Records Request for those documents on Monday, March 4, but the release of the records was delayed due to an ongoing investigation by council. The city provided them to TheGeorgiaVirtue on March 20, ten business days after the conclusion of a special-called meeting on March 6 on the actions of Gwinnett and related matters.

Gwinnett has served on council since 2020 and ran unopposed for the position of mayor in November 2023. He was sworn in January 4, 2024.

Grievances Allege Hostile Work Environment, Requests for Special Treatment 
Grievance #1 – City Clerk Lori Phillips

Phillips, who has worked for the City of Brooklet for the past seventeen years, filed a 3-page grievance on February 7. The letter, addressed to then-Councilman Jonathan Graham, cited concerns of ‘retaliation, humiliation, and extremely unprofessional conduct by Mayor Gwinnett,’ in addition to ridicule, verbal abuse, and a hostile work environment. In her letter to the councilman, Phillips asked for “some form of buffer and protection for me and our City hall staff as soon as possible.”

Among the listed concerns attached to the letter, Phillips mentioned:

  • Violations of the Georgia Open Meetings Act, as Gwinnett was utilizing email among council members as ‘notification’ of special called meetings
  • Requests by Gwinnett for Phillips to take a building inspection test on behalf of another employee
  • Concerns that Gwinnett is undermining city hall staff to other staff about ethics concerns, appropriate city spending, and Open Meetings Act violations
  • Pressure by Gwinnett for Phillips to issue a business license at his home address because he is currently operating a business without a license. Gwinnett’s residence is zoned residential and his cabinet business is ‘industrial.’ 
  • A dispute about a local ordinance on culverts and new city customers, which originated from Gwinnett’s belief that an ordinance was approved by the previous administration but left unsigned by the last mayor. Research by city staff revealed the ordinance was never passed by council, which is why it was not signed by the previous mayor.
  • Concerns over the mayor’s desire for staff not to share things with the city council about what happens at city hall, claiming he is the only one looking out for their best interests.
  • Gwinnett routinely tells staff that the only reason the city council wants to move to a city manager form of government is to get rid of all the staff they have.
  • Public ridicule of Phillips in front of other employees.

Read the grievance here.

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Grievance #2 – Assistant City Clerk Melissa Pevey

Pevey’s grievance was filed on February 15, 2024. In her complaint, she cites concerns of an unsafe work space, pressure to do things not deemed ethical, and a circumvention of the city’s hierarchy for operation. She also called the work environment ‘hostile’ and sought help from the city council. 

Specifically, Pevey cited:

  • Requests by Gwinnett for staff to purchase food trays and drinks in violation of the city purchasing policy
  • Claims of Gwinnett overriding city staff decisions about where property lines are drawn to alleviate the responsibility of a landlord, who is friends with the mayor, about a water leak and a high bill. Pevey said she was directed by Gwinnett not to make notes in the work order relating to what Gwinnett told her about the water account.
  • Instances of Gwinnett bringing text messages between him and other city council members into city hall in an attempt to get city staff to take sides.

Read the grievance here. And here.

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Councilman, City Attorney Resign Over Toxic Environment

Councilman Graham submitted this letter of resignation on March 1, 2024. In his departure note, Graham alleged ‘blatant misuse of city government funds and resources for personal gain.’ He also said he refused “to be complicit in actions that go against the principles of integrity, transparency, and respect for the rule of law.”
You can read the letter in its entirety here.

After receiving the letter from the city councilman, TheGeorgiaVirtue.com filed an Open Records Request, seeking the resignation of City Attorney Cain Smith and any subsequent documentation on his resignation. Documents reveal he resigned on February 28 in an email to the mayor, citing an unwillingness to participate in “personal disputes” or any “settling of the score.” It is unclear from the documents when the council first learned of the city attorney’s resignation, but an email from Smith to Gwinnett was forwarded on to council on March 5.

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Council Issues Directive 

On March 4, 2024, the city council called a special meeting to discuss personnel and ‘clarification and modification’ of the supervisory role of the mayor.

Reading from a piece of paper, Acting City Attorney Hugh Hunter said the following:

“The mayor has supervisory powers under the city charter over the daily operations of the city, etc. It’s not clear how those supervisory powers are to be exercised. The city’s also in the process of changing its charter, before the Georgia legislature, that would change its form of government to a city manager form of government and so, hopefully soon there’ll be a city manager and there won’t be issues anymore but in the meantime, the council wishes to adopt, I believe, this policy under the city charter as authorized by the city charter.”

This is a written directive to Mayor Gwinnett.

Pursuant to the authority set forth in Brooklet Charter Section 3-2, the Brooklet city council issues the following written directive to Mayor Nicky Gwinnett Jr:

The mayor has the following power under Section 3-1.8 under the current city charter:

Supervise the administration of the daily operations of the city and see that all ordinances, regulations, and policies of the council are faithfully executed and enforced.

The mayor is directed that in exercising the foregoing powers, he shall not have the power or authority to give directions or order to city employees unless the department head provides written delegation of such authority to the mayor. Rather, unless so delegated, his supervisory powers regarding duties with respect to the city employees shall be discussed with the department head only and not directly with any city employee. The mayor is prohibited from engaging in any retaliatory behavior against any city employee who, in good faith, raises any concerns to the appropriate department head or to the city council.

Respectfully, 
Brooklet City Council

Inappropriate Use of Closed Executive Session

During the called meeting on March 6, the Brooklet City Council was slated to go into executive session to discuss a personnel matter and then discuss a matter relating to the roles and duties of the mayor, presumably as it pertains to personnel. This was even explicitly outlined on the council agenda. However, after more than two hours in executive session, the council emerged with legal counsel, Hugh Hunter, to read a fully-drafted statement and directive on the duties and responsibilities of Mayor Gwinnett. This was evidenced by the bullet points being read from a sheet of paper and no discussion taking place. The meeting adjourned roughly two minutes later.

Under the Georgia Open Records Act, ‘personnel’ matters are a legitimate use for executive session when dealing with specific issues, but discussion on elected officials and their roles are not. To be in compliance with the law, the city council should have returned to open session after discussing the specifics of the individual personnel matters so that the public could hear the opinions and perspectives of their elected officials on the directive. The directive, which was made in the form of a policy, was voted on publicly, but the details were negotiated in a closed session, out of the public view entirely.

Other Complaints

A citizen-based complaint has also been circulated in recent days, but this one is directed at Councilwoman Becky Kelly and Councilman Brad Anderson. The letter, which was provided to TheGeorgiaVirtue.com by a third party, has been distributed throughout the community in recent days.

It should be noted that under Georgia law and the state constitution, citizens do not have the privilege or right to vote on a referendum for matters like ‘form of government,’ – i.e. whether or not a city has a city manager.

Jessica Szilagyi

Jessica Szilagyi is Publisher of TGV News She focuses primarily on state and local politics as well as issues in law enforcement and corrections. She has a background in Political Science with a focus in local government and has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Georgia.

Jessica is a "Like It Or Not" contributor for Fox5 in Atlanta and a commentator on the 'Let Me Tell You Why You're Wrong Podcast.'

Sign up for her weekly newsletter: http://eepurl.com/gzYAZT

1 Comment

  1. Oh look, Brooklets in the news again for it’s corrupt government. It’s like this town is cursed with highering and electing the worst people possible.

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