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Forest Park City Council seeks 'removal' reform

The Forest Park City Council voted 4-1, on Monday, in favor of a resolution to ask the Georgia General Assembly to reduce the number of votes it takes, on the council, to remove a member of the city's governing body from office.

Under the city's current charter, it takes a unanimous vote of the five-member city council to remove a member of the council from office. Forest Park leaders are seeking to change the charter, so it would only take three "yes" votes.

City Manager John Parker said the rule requiring five votes dates back nearly two decades, when the city council was a seven-member body. It was not changed when the size of the body was reduced to five members in the 1990s.

"Five votes is the total number of council members, so they had to change that to three," Parker said.

One councilmember, however, said the request is more personal than city leaders are leading people to believe. Councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams said she questions why the request to amend the charter is just coming up now. She said she believes the resolution, and another ordinance setting decorum requirements for council meetings, are directed at her.

Williams, who was elected in November 2009, has previously accused city officials, including Parker, and Mayor Corine Deyton, of engaging in acts of retaliation against her because she questioned their decisions.

"I feel they're aimed at me," Williams said. "They're trying to find any options to try to get rid of me. I've basically been a strong voice for the community. I speak up for what I feel is right, and fair ... and they don't like that."

Williams cast the lone vote against the resolution. She made a motion to have it stripped of all of its language, but her move died when none of the other city council members would second her motion.

The city council also voted 4-1, with Williams again casting the lone "nay" vote, to approve the ordinance that sets rules of procedure and decorum for council meetings.

Williams made headlines last November over her fight with city leaders to get an ergonomic chair to sit in during city council meetings. At that same time, she said, residents of Forest Park's Ward 2, which she represents on the council, filed an ethics complaint against her for alleged misuse of her office. Williams said a hearing on the complaint is scheduled for March 1.

She has previously said the alleged violations were related to her sponsoring a private business health fair, and having her own, special T-shirts made for volunteers from Ward 2 to wear during a citywide clean up, rather than using the T-shirts that were distributed in other wards.

"It's basically complaining about me serving my constituents, so they're really bogus charges," said Williams, on Monday.

Deyton declined to comment on the resolution to ask the general assembly to change the city's charter. Parker said it had nothing to do with Williams. "This is something that should have been done 20 years ago, when the charter was changed to start with," he said. "It has nothing to do with any particular person, or any particular situation."

Parker also said the decorum ordinance was needed to keep city council meetings under control, although he did not specify instances in which council meetings had gotten out of control. "We need to keep order with the governing body, and with the audience, as these meetings are held, and that's why this ordinance was generated," he said.

Forest Park is not the only city grappling with the issue of removing an elected official from office. Morrow has also been dealing with the issue.

In Morrow's case, city leaders say the issue has, indeed, come up because of a specific individual — Morrow City Councilman John Lampl.

Last November, the Morrow City Council voted to remove Lampl after an investigation into a complaint against the councilmember showed he had created a "hostile work environment" for Morrow's finance director.

In the months since then, Morrow leaders and the city council have had to create a new ordinance that sets up a process for holding removal hearings. Morrow's city council approved that ordinance last month. A hearing panel has not yet been named to oversee Lampl's case.