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Sexual harassment? Misunderstanding? Lula councilman investigated after hug, remarks about female employee
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Lula Councilman Gene Bramlett - photo by Scott Rogers

A Lula city employee said Councilman Gene Bramlett uttered an inappropriate comment about her rear end while he was at City Hall, according to an outside investigation.

 Bramlett has also faced scrutiny over alleged unwanted physical contact with the female employee, whose name was omitted from the investigation based on the nature of the complaint.

In accordance with Lula’s policy on sexual harassment complaints, City Attorney Joey Homan again requested the services of independent investigator Michael Rundles, of Southern Professional Investigations, to investigate the complaint. 

Bramlett has denied accusations that he made the remark, which he’s called a “misunderstanding.”

The latest 21-page report came at a cost of more than $6,000 and marks the second investigation the retired GBI agent has conducted in Lula, resulting in costs of more than $10,000 in investigative services in the last six months. 

As a result of the investigation Lula’s City Council and the mayor will take Georgia Municipal Association training seminars to inform them of proper and appropriate behavior as elected members of government – a recommendation Rundles made in his report.

“...I find and conclude that it would be desirable mayor and council receive the same (sexual harassment) training as (the city) requires of employees,” the report states. 

A side hug caught on camera

The investigation shows that Bramlett was picking up city documents when he allegedly made the comment.

“(Employee) stated Bramlett picked up ordinances he had requested through his attorney using an open records request (at City Hall),” the report states. “...she stated she told Bramlett she had written up a paper to have him sign to show he had received all his documents and it was to cover [their] butts. She stated Bramlett said ‘it looks like your butt is pretty much covered.”

Bramlett allegedly made the comment as he followed the employee back to the front office at City Hall, according to the report, causing her discomfort as he walked behind her when he said it. 

“Investigator asked (the employee) how it affected her. She stated it made her feel uncomfortable,” the report said. “...she stated she felt like him being behind her (when) he made the comment made her think, ‘Is he looking at my butt?’”

The report states that Bramlett engaged in uninvited physical contact with the employee prior to the remark – all of which was captured on video cameras inside the chamber. 

“Bramlett walked up to (the employee) and placed his right arm around her shoulder and appeared to pull her toward him,” Rundles’ report states. “The embrace lasted three seconds…Bramlett turned to his left with his hands spaced out and appeared to freeze as he looked in the direction of the camera. It lasted four seconds.”

Rundles noted in a final summary of the report that the physical interaction Bramlett had with the employee – which wasn’t what prompted the initial complaint – was of particular concern. The summary also states that “no action is warranted” against Bramlett. 

“Although I have concluded that no action is warranted as a result of the substance of the initial complaint…the video depicts what is sometimes referred to as a side hug,” Rundles states in the summary. “ today’s world, and in the context of the current state of the law applying to sexual harassment in the workplace, a side hug is an inappropriate and potentially dangerous way for two persons who have different roles in the organization to greet each other.”  

Bramlett, who at first refused to discuss the allegations without a subpoena and his attorney present, ultimately agreed to an in-person interview with Rundles on Oct. 23 at the councilman’s home. When Rundles arrived, he “observed an audio/video recording device on Bramlett’s shirt pocket.” Rundles then retrieved an audio recorder from his vehicle before proceeding.

During the interview, Bramlett repeatedly denies making the comment. Rundles notes in the report that the incident was recorded by cameras at City Hall, though audio wasn’t included in the video footage, giving investigators no way to substantiate whether Bramlett made the comment. 

“Bramlett stated he didn’t recall saying it…that was something he normally wouldn’t say,” the report states. “Bramlett said it would be out of line. (Bramlett) stated he didn’t believe he said it, but if it was on the video, so be it.”

Bramlett, who denied his gaze was on the employee’s rear end as she escorted him toward the front office, tells Rundles in the report that “he could have been looking at anything, he wasn’t looking at her.”

Additional statements made in the report indicate that while no one else on council physically embraces employees as a form of greeting, Bramlett had allegedly exhibited similar behavior in the past. 

“Investigator asked (employee) if Bramlett had ever hugged her in the past – she stated yes. She stated there were times when Bramlett would come to the office and he hugged (her) like a greeting,” the report reads. “...investigator asked (employee) if any other council members or the mayor greeted them in the same fashion – she stated no.” 

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Lula Mayor Joe Thomas - photo by Scott Rogers
Toxic environment 

The 21-page report goes on to provide a direct insight into what has been described as a toxic environment at Lula City Hall, as the employee admits working in a state of fear and uncertainty after she’d seen allegations in a previous investigation released by Rundles in August – which accused Bramlett and Mayor Joe Thomas of retaliating against residents and a fellow councilmember through code enforcement. 

Statements in the report from August claim that Councilwoman Denise Shockley was offered the employee’s position if Shockley stepped down from council.

“(The employee) stated the environment had not been the greatest and no one knew from day to day if they might lose their job,” the report states. “...she stated she thought (the mayor and council) were out to get her job. She stated if they were out to get City Manager Dennis Bergin, who else did they want to get out of the office…she had no clue they had offered her job to (Councilwoman) Denise Shockley until she had read the report from a previous investigation.”

Shockley told The Times she wasn’t offered a job with the city in any official capacity.

Councilmen Garnett Smith and Chip Horst said they’re waiting until Lula’s regular meeting next Monday before deciding whether to recommend that Bramlett resign in the wake of the latest investigation.

“We’ll see what happens next Monday night,” Smith said. 

Regarding the allegations against Bramlett, Horst said he’s still unsure as to what the proper steps could be going forward.

“I’m unsure at this point, to be honest,” Horst said. “I’m waiting until I know that all of the information has been released.”

Thomas wouldn’t speak to whether Bramlett should resign or not but said he doesn’t believe there’s a toxic atmosphere at City Hall. 

“I don’t think so,” Thomas said. “But I’m not here enough to know. How can I make an opinion if I’m not here? I’ve heard there’s problems in here, but I’m not privy to personal knowledge of it – the he-said, she-said, rumor here, rumor there.” 

Neither Bramlett nor Shockley could be reached for a response regarding the report, and Councilman Tony Cornett declined to comment. 

About this story

Reporter Brian Wellmeier received a tip from a resident about an investigation into Lula City Councilman Gene Bramlett. Wellmeier confirmed the tip then placed an open records request for the final investigation. Once he received the report, he called city officials and attended the monthly meeting to question officials about the investigation's findings.