JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — The Johns Creek City Council got an earful from residents furious over details that have surfaced about a settlement the city made with embattled former Police Chief Chris Byers.
Public outrage leveled at the council’s Aug. 24 meeting centered on details that Byers had been under investigation for sexual misconduct and had been paid $325,000 to resign quietly and not sue the city — details concealed when the agreement was announced Aug. 10. The vote to settle with Byers was 5-2, with council members Lenny Zaprowski and Brian Weaver opposed.
On top of that, residents complained the settlement was paid the same week the City Council passed a 13 percent increase in local property taxes.
The city is in the process of hiring a search firm to assist with selecting a new police chief. City officials vow the selection process will include massive efforts to engage the public.
In addition, Mayor Mike Bodker said he wants to speak with the legal team to provide some latitude for city officials to release more background on the settlement without violating the legal agreement struck with Byers.
More than 25 residents spent an hour at the Aug. 24 meeting speaking in person or having their email comments read on the topic. Nearly all berated the council for rewarding behavior they said goes against the principles of decency. They also criticized officials for keeping the settlement amount and the reasons for Byers’ departure hidden from the public.
Byers was placed on administrative leave in mid-June shortly after posting remarks on Facebook critical of religious leaders for their support of the Black Lives Matter movement, an organization he claimed celebrated the killing of police.
Public outrage over the comments sparked calls for the chief’s dismissal, and the council announced soon after that Byers had been placed on leave pending an internal investigation, though the nature of the probe was never revealed. That investigation concluded July 13, with a finding that while Byers had made comments of a graphic sexual nature to a female employee who subsequently complained, prior banter between the two had laid the groundwork for conditions where Byers might have assumed the comment was not inappropriate.
Details of the probe and the money paid in the settlement were not revealed until a report by Atlanta’s 11 Alive News broke on Aug. 21, nearly a week after the council approved the agreement by a vote of 5-2. The Herald has since sought and received copies of the report.
“The fact that Chris Byers has been rewarded for his racist and misogynist behavior is particularly troubling for many reasons,” resident Denise Harold said. “By rewarding him with such a huge payoff, the mayor, the City Council and the city manager have minimized the implications of how his behavior has affected the rest of the Johns Creek Police Department as well as all our citizens.”
Harold said the sexual harassment complaint against Byers was made months before his promotion from major to police chief in March. She said former Police Chief and current City Manager Ed Densmore knew about this and promoted Byers anyway.
“Densmore, after making that huge mistake in promoting Byers, is now going to be responsible for hiring our next police chief,” Harold said.
Other residents declared public proclamations hailing the diversity of Johns Creek were hollow words and described those on the City Council as “enablers,” not public servants.
Farhana Rahman, a 15-year resident of the city, was moved to tears when addressing her remarks to the council. She said the City Council’s action merely reinforces the type of hostility those with ethnic names experience on the city’s own social media pages.
“We are targeted by residents here; we are targeted and told we need to go back,” Rahman said, choking on her words. “I’m not shaking. I’m angry. This is not OK.”