Kansas City Councilman Michael Brooks submitted his resignation Wednesday but remained adamant that he is innocent of the accusation that torpedoed his political career.
Brooks and his attorney, John Picerno, held a news conference at which Picerno said the allegations that Brooks assaulted his council aide were false.
“None of it happened. It’s not true,” Picerno said, insisting that the aide, Tonia Titus, only leveled her claims after Brooks told her she would soon be let go from her job.
In a brief telephone interview later Wednesday, Titus discounted Brooks’ account of the incident and said he was lying.
Brooks, who is a first-term 5th District councilman and senior pastor of Zion Grove Baptist Church, has been under a media microscope ever since Titus filed a report with Kansas City police on Nov. 9. She said Brooks had choked her in his 22nd floor council office on Nov. 4. After she made her accusation, Titus was moved to a different job with the city.
This was the second time Brooks had found himself in hot water with the City Council. In August 2013, he apologized to his council colleagues, saying he had made a “terrible mistake” for sending sexually charged online messages to a woman who was not his wife.
Picerno said at the time that Brooks never met the woman in person and that there was no impropriety. That scandal eventually faded.
In this latest incident, the city hired an outside lawyer, Donald Prophete, to investigate, and he recently turned over his interviews to City Attorney Bill Geary. Kansas City police also investigated and recently turned their case file over to Jackson County for review. A special prosecutor will soon be appointed to consider whether charges should be filed.
Brooks, who has repeatedly denied the accusations, nonetheless said in his resignation letter Wednesday that he had decided the timing was right to step down.
“Due to the ongoing media circus and out of concern for my family, loved ones, colleagues, church members and citizens of Kansas City, as well as myself,” Brooks wrote, “I believe it is in everyone’s best interest to take this action at this time.”
The resignation letter and Picerno’s news conference followed a memo Geary sent Tuesday about the case to Mayor Sly James and the rest of the council.
Geary told City Council members that they would have to decide whether the assault allegation against Brooks merited removing him from office.
His memo elaborated on the police report and said Titus had accused Brooks of a “pattern of unwanted touching that in some instances amounts to violence against her person during her employment.”
“Specific incidents alleged by Ms. Titus address violence occurring in March 2012 and on Nov. 4, 2014,” Geary wrote the council. “Alleging a pattern of violent acts in the workplace, Ms. Titus alleges being punched (initially playfully, but it becoming (sic) more aggressive) and slapped by Councilman Brooks during her tenure as his assistant.”
But Picerno said that what really happened Nov. 4 was that Brooks had a conversation late in the day in which he told Titus he would be replacing her soon as his legislative aide. It was five days later that she filed the police report alleging the choking incident.
“Mr. Brooks has denied the allegations; Mr. Brooks has said they never occurred,” Picerno said, adding that the councilman has told both the investigator for the city and Kansas City police about the internal problems regarding his aide’s job performance.
Picerno said that if the police investigation results in any charges in Jackson County, Brooks will plead not guilty and vigorously fight to clear his name.
After Brooks’ news conference, Titus said in an interview that Brooks never discussed replacing her with another legislative aide and that his account of the conversation was “a lie.”
Picerno said that Brooks had already made the decision some months ago not to seek re-election in 2015, and that because of the constant media attention and disruption to his family life, he had decided it made sense to leave office a few months early.
He said his resignation will be effective Jan. 2, and he will clear out of his office over the holidays.
Some City Council members and community leaders expressed relief that Brooks’ decision negated the need for a difficult airing of the case in public. Veteran City Hall observers could not remember a time when City Council members have had to sit in judgment of one of their colleagues on an accusation of misconduct.
“We all get to focus on the business that we need to, and we’re out of an area of unknown for us as a council, which was uncomfortable, so it’s a good thing for everyone,” said Mayor Pro Tem Cindy Circo, who represents the 5th District At-Large.
Gayle Holliday, co-chair and media spokeswoman for the African-American political club Freedom Inc., agreed.
“I believe Mr. Brooks made the best decision for himself and his family, and I’m sure it was well thought out,” she said.
The council elections are in April and June, and a new council takes office Aug. 1.
James said the council will move swiftly to pick a replacement to fill Brooks’ seat until Aug. 1. He said the city will announce a process soon for interested applicants. James and other council members said they would not be inclined to appoint anyone who plans to run for the seat because that would give that person an unfair advantage.