• City official fired over Cherry Blossom Festival photo controversy

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    BROOKHAVEN, Ga. - A top official in the City of Brookhaven was fired over a comment she made about two teen models.

    Nelson James was hired to take pictures for the city’s Cherry Blossom Festival. He says he had only snapped a test shot when then communications director Rosemary Taylor stopped him.

    Jones told investigative reporter Erica Byfield over the phone that Taylor referenced the models and said, “They are not the type of people the City of Brookhaven want representing them.”

    Jones says their mouths dropped and, seconds later, another city official demanded he and the models leave.

    Brookhaven’s leadership sent us this statement: "Rosemary Taylor was relieved of her duties as the city's communications director after she exhibited conduct unbecoming of a city employee at the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival last month."

    Byfield knocked on Taylor’s door, but she refused to open it. She was on the job less than a month.

    Taylor later released a statement saying:

    "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.”

    Jones said he felt like Taylor made a racial remark and he is pleased that she is no longer employed with the City of Brookhaven.

    The internal investigation into what happened is ongoing.

    We asked Brookhaven’s spokesperson about what exactly Taylor said about the models, but were told they couldn’t comment because the investigation is ongoing.

    In the meantime, the city is actively looking for a new communications director.   

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