Photo by Heather Middleton
By Kathy Jefcoats
The Forest Park City Council voted Monday to set the wheels in motion to remove Councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams from office, following public comments urging councilmembers to keep her on board.
City Attorney Robert Mack said the vote adopts the ruling of an ethics board hearing officer who found, in May, that 15 of 25 charges against Williams were sustained. The charges included violation of the city's charter, ordinances and ethics codes, said Mack.
"The board voted to adopt the findings of fact and conclusion of the law of the hearing officer from the ethics hearing as [a] final order," he said. "They will seek to remove her from office."
Williams will be given the opportunity to present her side during a July 28 public hearing. Mack said it will not be a forum for public comments. After Williams speaks, the council could vote immediately on removing her from office, he said.
"We anticipate the board will vote to remove her July 28," he said.
The ethics complaint was filed by three Forest Park residents. Williams has appealed the decision of the ethics hearing office to Clayton County Superior Court. Three of the four Superior Court judges have recused themselves, and the fourth may as well, citing conflicts of interest, according to Monday's court filings. If none of the local judges will hear the case, a judge from another circuit could be appointed.
One of the charges alleges that Williams bought personal property with public funds for her personal and/or political use. Specifically, Williams testified under oath that she bought T-shirts with tax dollars. Those shirts displayed information that seemed more campaign-related than the promotion of a city-approved event.
Williams addressed that complaint during Monday's meeting.
"I wanted to be able to support local businesses, to be able to make T-shirts for unity and visibility," she said. "We're talking $300 or less, and that's misappropriation of funds? I was not able to get funds except through the clerk."
The meeting room was filled to its 114-person capacity and a fire marshal stood by to make sure the count was maintained. Maureen Lee was one of about 19 people who spoke out Monday.
"We are here to ask council to not remove her," she said. "Please, don't do it. I am grateful to have a councilwoman concerned about the city, to be a voice."
Felicia Davis agreed with Lee and echoed the sentiments of a handful of others when she pointed out that Williams should only be removed by voters.
"Removing by five people what took a whole community of people to bring in is really a challenge, and I want to hear justification," said Davis. "And I want to know what we can do to remove the rest of the board."
Specifically, the council decided to remove Williams for "knowingly violating any express prohibition of this [city] charter," said Mack.
Williams can also appeal such a vote to the Clayton County Superior Court. Mack said she can remain in office until the appeal is decided. If Williams fails on the local level, she can appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court. She will not be allowed to remain on the board during that process, he said.
"The Ward 2 seat could sit vacant during the appeals process," said Mack. "But Ward 2 constituents will not suffer from a lack of representation."
If the council's vote is affirmed, the city will hold a special election to fill Williams' Ward 2 seat. Williams took office in January 2010.