Mayor Chuck Shaheen told Warner Robins City Council members last month that a grand jury foreman suspected police of covering up the murder of Mayor Donald Walker.
But council member Bob Wilbanks says Shaheen made that "ridiculous" statement in a closed session because of the mayor's "vendetta" against police chief Brett Evans.
The GBI ruled Walker's death a suicide by "a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head."
Wilbanks gave 13WMAZ an audio recording of that closed council session, held December 6 at Warner Robins City Hall, that contains Shaheen's comments about the alleged murder and cover-up.
On the recording, Shaheen says a grand jury foreman accused someone of murdering the mayor's predecessor Donald Walker in September 2009, and Shaheen names the person he said the foreman suspected of killing Walker.
13WMAZ is not identifying that person because there was no evidence in the investigative files to support the claim, and because that person was never charged with a crime.
Shaheen made his comments after an open work session of the City Council, when the council went into closed executive session to discuss a personnel matter.
Wilbanks says he asked for the closed session to talk about a form Shaheen filed with a state agency asking for an investigation of the police chief after Shaheen suspended him in August. That form is called a C-11 and was filed with the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, or POST.
Wilbanks says he wanted the mayor to explain the basis for several allegations on that form against Brett Evans, which included ticket-fixing, "grand jury concerns" and evidence held without charges.
City Clerk Alton Mattox says he recorded the closed session to take accurate notes, not knowing what was about to be said or that it could be released to the public under Georgia's Open Records Act.
Wilbanks provided 13WMAZ with a copy of that tape.
Mattox and Council Member Mike Daley vouched for its authenticity, and council members John Williams and Paul Shealy said they knew Wilbanks obtained the recording.
After the door closed, Shaheen started to explain why he asked a state agency to investigate Brett Evans.
On the recording, Shaheen is heard to tell council, "I have been protecting y'all from the truth, but you know what? I don't mind you getting mad at me, because you need to hear truth."
In an interview, Wilbanks said Shaheen was explaining items he listed on the C-11 form that were unrelated to the suspension.
Shaheen can be heard saying that he went to a March 2010 Houston County Grand Jury meeting at the invitation of then- District Attorney Kelly Burke.
The mayor talks about what he allegedly heard there.
Shaheen said: "The foreman said to me, tell me everything you know about the suicide of Donald Walker. All right? I asked him why. You want to know why? They think (name deleted) killed him. Ok? I haven't told you guys this."
Shaheen goes on to tell council that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation -- not the Warner Robins Police Department -- should have been called in to work the shooting of Donald Walker.
Shaheen said, ''They think the Warner Robins Police Department covered up a murder. So, do y'all want me to go public with that and really mess up our police department?"
Council member Paul Shealy asks Shaheen, "Who is 'they' think?"
Shaheen responds, "That's what the grand jury thought."
Last week, Burke said he never had knowledge of the allegations during his time as district attorney, and that a grand jury doesn't have the legal authority to consider charges without an indictment on the table.
Last February, Burke said to 13WMAZ, "There was no allegation against Chief Evans, and today there's no allegation against Chief Evans."
The GBI, after reviewing police evidence and the medical examiner's findings, ruled Walker's death a suicide.
On the tape, Bob Wilbanks says, "That's what it is. A bunch of crap, just like the rest of it, mayor."
The recording tapes Shaheen moving on from what Wilbanks called "serious allegations," to Evans' seven-day suspension for placing a political sign in his yard during the previous year's mayoral campaign. Council reduced Evans' suspension to two days.
Shaheen said on the tape, "If he would have come forward and said you know what? Mayor and Council, thank you for the chance to overrule this. If he would've said, I should take my seven-day suspension, I would've said, that's the guy I want working for me. Because you overruled it, I don't choose to have him working for me. Let me give you another example."
Wilbanks asks Shaheen, "So, if he manned up and took seven days, it would have been over?"
Council member John Williams speaks up and says, "Absolutely." Then Shaheen responds, "Absolutely."
Wilbanks says on the tape, "So, all the crap you are stating here is nothing?"
The question from Wilbanks is followed by arguing among council members, and Shaheen concluding that "you're not going to support this mayor, Mr. Wilbanks."
Wilbanks said he released the recording believing that the public has a right to know what goes on in their government. He believes Shaheen has a vendetta against the chief.
Wilbanks said, "This is an issue that's a very serious allegation, and it's been made toward a man and a department who I think are as good or better than any other in this country."
City council member John Williams on Monday criticized Wilbanks for releasing the recording, calling it "violation of public trust."
He says he will speak on the matter at Tuesday's "rally for reform" in Warner Robins. He also says law-enforcement agencies should investigate whether Wilbanks broke any law.
Williams asks, "How can the public trust this man to have another confidential meeting?"
We asked Mayor Shaheen to comment as we prepared this story. By email Monday, the mayor said he was not making an accusation, just expressing concerns.
"Georgia State Law provides reasons to have an executive 'Closed' session. Therefore, I will not comment on what was said in a closed session. However, let me make it clear I made NO accusations just concerns. Also, it is important to not breach the confidentiality of the council. My desire is to move our great city forward in 2011 and serve all the citizens of Warner Robins."
In early January, 13WMAZ asked the Georgia Attorney General's office for guidance on disclosing notes or recordings taken in executive session of a government body.
The spokesman for the Attorney General's office, Russ Willard, said: "It's our office's opinion that nothing makes recordings or notes in executive session exempt from disclosure" under Georgia's Open Records law.
The grand jury foreman didn't return our call seeking comment on what Shaheen told the city council.
Last week, a spokesman for the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training council, P.O.S.T., said the concerns Shaheen raised about Brett Evans come before them in March.
If the agency finds any allegations to be true, they could discipline Evans in various ways, including pulling his certification as a law-enforcement officer, or they could choose not to take action at all.