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Councilwoman may appeal ethics charges

Williams

Williams

By Kathy Jefcoats

kjefcoats@news-daily.com

A hearing officer sustained more than half of 25 ethics violations lodged against a Forest Park City Councilmember, but it is unclear how -- or if -- the official will be sanctioned.

The bulk of the complaints against Councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams, involve e-mails she sent to various city employees. Violations were alleged when the e-mails were considered to be going against city ordinances governing the behavior of elected officials. At their core, the ordinances forbid the mayor and councilmembers from personally benefiting from their positions.

Daniel J. Grossman, the Atlanta attorney representing Williams, said she never profited from any action she asked of city employees. "She didn't personally benefit from anything," said Grossman.

He said Williams could be fined, or removed from office, according to the city charter, but the penalties for violating the ordinances are unclear, and may be illegal.

"That'll be another issue, I am sure," he said. "It is not clear if it is legal for council to remove her from office, when the voters elected her. Council may decide to not issue a penalty to avoid a constitutional challenge."

Forest Park City Manager John Parker said he has not seen a copy of the decision and had been told by City Attorney Robert Mack that it was not to be disseminated to the public for 30 days, to give Williams time for an appeal.

"I understand that the penalties range from a reprimand, either verbal or written, and either public or private, to dismissal from office," he said. "To me, that includes anything and everything in between."

Mack could not be reached for comment Friday.

Grossman said it is up to Williams to decide if she wants to appeal the decision. "She will have to decide if she wants to appeal, and in what manner," he said. "To appeal to city council, the very body that went against her, may be a waste of time and money. She can appeal directly to the Clayton County Superior Court, where she may have a better chance of getting a fair hearing."

The penalty may also play a role in whether she appeals. If she incurs a small monetary fine, it might be in her best interest to just pay it, rather than fight, he said.

One charge that was sustained against Williams involved an e-mail asking a city employee about setting up a meet-and-greet with new board appointees. The hearing officer held that Williams violated city ordinances because she requested that the employee perform certain duties in a non-emergency situation.

A charge that was unsubstantiated involved an e-mail to Police Chief Dwayne Hobbs, asking about a fine for a false alarm at Forest Park United Methodist Church. Williams asked Hobbs to look into giving the church a refund, because the alarm was set off by lightning.