By Curt Yeomans
More than a dozen Forest Park residents, and human rights advocates, gathered outside Forest Park City Hall Friday morning to proclaim their support for a councilwoman, who is alleging that other city officials are discriminating, and retaliating, against her.
Ward 2 City Councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams said she has been trying since February to get the city to purchase, for her, an ergonomic chair to sit in during city council meetings. According to Williams, she suffers from fibromyalgia and vertigo, and an ergonomic chair would make it possible for her to sit in comfort during meetings. The city council denied that request earlier this year, she said.
City officials have said the chair Williams suggested would have cost approximately $1,900, but the councilwoman, who has been on the city council since January, said officials could have gone online and tried to find a similar chair at a cheaper price.
"I can't be as comfortable as an average person in the chairs that they have," Williams told supporters at the rally on Friday.
But, what has particularly upset Williams and some residents, and sparked the rally, are comments that Mayor Corine Deyton made to WSB-TV earlier this week, in which she questioned why a disabled person would run for public office.
On Monday, WSB-TV aired a story on the chair issue, during which Deyton, on video that appears on the station's web site, was shown saying, "If you're disabled, why did you run for office? I mean, if you're really disabled. I mean, that's just the way I feel about it."
On Friday, however, the mayor told the Clayton News Daily, "I never said that ... I don't know who's telling you these things, but it's not true."
Previously, on Tuesday, Deyton also said she did not recall making the comment to the TV station.
"It deeply hurt for a person to say someone cannot pursue his or her goals and ambitions because of their disabilities," Williams said. The councilwoman said Deyton has not contacted her to apologize for making the comment.
Deyton did say, on Friday, that she has no prejudices against disabled people. She pointed out that she once worked at a nursing home, and raised money for disabled people while she was there.
"We raised over $250,000 for disabled people," she said. "I have no problem with people who have disabilities."
But, Gerald Rose, chief executive officer of the Marietta-based New Order National Human Rights Organization, said he believes city officials, including Deyton and the city council, have been discriminatory against a disabled person.
"I feel like her rights were violated because of discrimination," Rose told attendees at the rally in support of Williams outside Forest Park City Hall on Friday. He said his group is now planning to organize a protest, in support of Williams, at the Forest Park City Council's Dec. 6 meeting. The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., at City Hall.
"[On] Dec. 6, we need to be out here in large numbers, to show them we're serious," Rose said. He even suggested organizing a recall effort against Deyton, because of her comments.
Several Forest Park residents, who attended the rally, told Williams they supported her, and expressed outrage over Deyton's comments on WSB-TV. "When I saw that on TV, I was spitting nails," said Renee Burko, who lives in Williams' ward. "It's a discrimination against her when they say disabled people can't run for public office. We, the people, when we voted for her, we didn't look at her disability.
"We were looking for somebody who is for the people," Burko added.
Other residents told Williams, during the rally, they could not understand why the city has not purchased a chair for her to use. "If we can afford all these police cars ... we can afford a chair," said Ward 3 resident, Gregory Harold Gray.
Williams said the chair is not the only issue involving her and other city officials, however. She said officials have canceled her attendance at conferences, begun charging her for documents she requests from the city, and made her go through Deyton and City Manager John Parker to speak with city department heads.
She said the city council, earlier this week, forwarded resident complaints against her to the city's Ethics Board. The complaints, she said, allege that she acted unethically by: Giving a city-issued check for $50 to a hunger-relief charity; using her position as a council member to endorse a privately run health fair; and purchasing special T-shirts to be worn during a clean-up effort in her Ward.
She said city officials, specifically Deyton, Parker, and City Councilwoman (and Mayor Pro Tempore) Sparkle Adams, are retaliating against her because she is outspoken.
"Because I have challenged, and I have questioned, I have been retaliated against," Williams said.
Deyton, Parker and Adams have all denied any retaliation against Williams.