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Forest Park councilwoman claims discrimination

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Forest Park Ward 2 Councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams says retaliation against her outspoken nature is why some of her follow council members, and the city's mayor and city manager, allegedly refused to make accommodations for a muscle-and-ligament disease she has.

Williams, who was elected to the city council last year, said she has vertigo and fibromyalgia, which often leaves her in pain, even during city council meetings. She said she has to use a cane, or sometimes a four-wheeled walker, to move around.

The councilwoman first asked city officials in February if they could purchase an ergonomic chair for her to use during council meetings. The chair, she said, would have settings, including lumbar back support, which are designed to balance out her spine. Williams said the council voted down the request over the summer, and she added that she believes it is because she has ruffled feathers in the city since joining the council at the beginning of this year.

"I'm being made to feel uncomfortable at meetings, because I'm being a strong voice for the community, and not willing to go with the status quo," Williams said. "It's like everyone's against me."

Williams singled out three city officials in particular, who she believes are acting in retaliation against her: Mayor Corine Deyton, City Manager John Parker, and Ward 1 Councilwoman Sparkle Adams. Adams is also Forest Park's Mayor Pro Tempore.

Williams said she first asked Parker to purchase a chair for her in February, and brought two printouts from an office supply store's web site, showing ergonomic chairs that cost up to $400. She said, after consulting with her doctor, she brought a chair quote from a store he recommended to her, to Parker. She said the city manager expressed no problem with her request up to that point.

He then took the chair quote she gave him to the city council for approval last summer, and they denied the request, she said. "They have tried to make it seem like I'm trying to waste taxpayer's money," Williams said.

Adams said the city had little information about the chair when it was brought up for approval. All officials had was a quote for a chair that cost just over $1,900, she said. "We had no documentation, no idea why this chair was needed," she added.

Deyton said she still does not know the extent of Williams' medical condition. "I haven't discussed it with her, so I don't know what her condition is," the mayor said. The mayor added that she thought the chairs the city has for council members were perfectly fine. "These chairs are very comfortable," she said. "They have high backs, they have arm rests, you can swivel in them, and they have rollers on the bottom ... We don't see why she would need another chair."

The mayor then added, "If you run for office, you need to be aware of what will be required of you. You have to be able to step up onto the platform that the council sits on. I'm not against anybody with a disability running for public office, [though]."

Adams and Deyton said they have nothing against disabled people. "I'm for helping anybody with a disability," Adams said. "None of us wants to do anything that would discriminate against a disabled person."

Parker said no city official has acted in retaliation against Williams. "As far as retaliation is concerned, there has been none, in any way, shape or form," he said.

Deyton added that she believes Williams is "doing a good job for the people that live in her ward."

According to Williams, the chair issue was just one of several problems she has had with the trio since she took office. She said she has been made to go through Deyton and Parker to speak with city department heads, and that Parker is now charging her for documents she requests from the city. "I'm an elected official," she said. "I shouldn't have to pay them for documents I need to do my job."

Deyton said, however, she is not aware of any council member having to pay for documents he, or she requests from the city.

Williams also said Parker canceled her attendance at a Georgia Association of Regional Commissions conference that was held earlier this month on St. Simon's Island. Adams, however, said Williams' attendance at the conference was canceled because her doctor recommended she not work for more than two hours a day, and a conference would have had her participating in activities for up to eight hours a day.

"We would have been violating her doctor's orders, so what we did was we canceled her [attendance at the] conference," Adams said.

But, Williams brought the argument back to the chair, and said the city should buy a chair for her, if it is concerned about what her doctor says. "If the city was concerned about me, I'd have a chair," she said.

Deyton said the councilmembers need to put the argument over the chair behind them, however, and focus on issues facing the city, such as the re-development of Fort Gillem, once the U.S. Army cedes much of the base to the city.

"We all need to work together for the betterment of the city," Deyton said.