After a series of confusing actions Thursday night, the Forest Park City Council voted to oust Ward 2 Representative Karen-Brandee Williams for "misappropriation of funds" and 15 sustained counts of ethics violations filed three residents.
Williams said after the meeting that she was "very disappointed," and considered the vote politically motivated. She is considering an appeal.
"This has taken its toll, physically and financially," she said. "I am praying on it. I have the option to appeal, or let it go, but every time I try to quit, I realize this is not about me. Sometimes, people are put into places to survive a storm, so successors coming after won't have to."
Williams took about 10 minutes of an allotted 30 to plead her case against removal during a special public hearing set solely for her platform. She asked council to consider other disciplinary options, given that she is only 18 months into her first term in elected office.
"I wish you would consider looking at each of the charges again, and look at other options, a possible censure or reprimand," said Williams. "This disenfranchises voters. Do you really think this is the right thing to do?"
Mayor Pro Tem Sparkle Adams first made a motion to adjourn, corrected herself after input from other council members, and moved to close the public hearing. Mayor Corine Deyton announced that council was in a regular meeting, and asked for comments from members.
Adams said removing Williams was not something anyone wanted to do. "No one wants to be in this position, but we have the task to be good stewards of public funds," said Adams. "We're trying to do the right thing."
That prompted an objection from Williams, who asked for time to rebut Adams' accusation. "I have not misappropriated any funds from the city at all," said Williams. "I can't touch any money from the city without it being approved. At no time was I told it was unethical."
Adams then made a motion simply to "accept it." Linda Lord seconded and voted "yes," along with Adams and Donald Judson. Maudie McCord said she "shustained," which brought proceedings to a halt. It was not immediately clear whether she meant to abstain from voting, but her remarks indicated she was not in favor of removing Williams.
"As I read the charges, I feel I'm being pulled into a situation that doesn't affect all the wards," she said. "Councilwoman is boastful, sometimes disrespectful and is a person who sometimes speaks out and lashes out."
McCord then clarified that she meant to abstain from the vote. Lord said she thought Williams followed bad advice. "All the things that happened, a lot of things, some of the information you got didn't come from the city," she said. "You got bad advice."
With the vote still unresolved, Deyton announced that council was going into closed session. Spectators did not hear a motion and vote to go into closed session, which is required law. But City Attorney Robert Mack and City Manager John Parker insisted a vote was taken and documented.
When council returned about 25 minutes later, a motion and vote to go back into regular session did not appear to have been made. Mack told council to clarify the previous motion.
"The record is not clear about what you were voting on, what you were accepting," said Mack. "You need to perfect the record on what you are voting on, so it is clear." He also told Williams she could not cast a vote because it would be a conflict of interest.
So Adams moved to accept the ordinance as written –– to remove Williams from office –– and Lord seconded it. McCord and Judson also voted "yes." Williams voted "no."
Mack said council was "confused" about what to do. Residents attending the meeting were confused, too, approaching Mack and Parker afterward for an explanation of what had just happened.
After the meeting, Mack said the council's actions were regrettable. "This is a sad day," he said. "No one wants to make the decision to remove someone from office. This was hard on council."
It was also unclear to Williams whether she can remain on council, if she files an appeal.
"I'll still be at the meetings, I mean, I live in Forest Park and care about the people," she said.