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Former council member appeals removal

Ousted Forest Park councilwoman, Karen-Brandee Williams, has appealed the council's decision to remove her from the board, and asked for an immediate return to her seat.

City Attorney Joe Harris said he will answer the complaint within 30 days of the Aug. 25 filing. Harris said it could be another two months before the appeal is put on the Clayton County Superior Court calendar.

Chief Judge Deborah Benefield approved Williams' request that she review the council's decision.

Forest Park City Council voted Williams off the board July 28, about 18 months into her four-year term. A hearing officer found that Williams violated 15 of 25 ethics codes in a complaint filed against her by three residents.

But Williams alleges almost a dozen errors in the council's actions against her, including selective prosecution and the argument that the board's very decision was illegal.

One of the violations concerned Williams allegedly spending tax dollars on items from which she personally benefited. She has maintained that she did not have the authority to spend city money without, at least, one other official signing off on the request. In her appeal, Williams denies any wrongdoing.

Witnesses in the ethics hearing said Williams often directed department heads to perform tasks without going through the proper channels. Williams was seen as telling employees what to do, according to the complaint. But her appeal challenges that assertion.

"A council member doesn't lose rights and privileges of an ordinary citizen when they join the council," said Williams in her filing. "The council member has the right to make a request of a city department, and be told, yes or no."

Other challenges to the ouster include the allegation that the 4-0 vote to remove her violates the city charter, because five votes were not cast; that Williams cannot commit ethical violations when she is acting legally and in her official capacity to assist citizens; and that the three residents were allowed to collaborate on one ethics complaint that includes 25 counts.

During the July vote, Ward 3 Representative Maudie McCord first abstained, but voted to remove Williams after a closed session with the rest of the board. McCord and the three other members voted yes, Williams cast a no vote, even though she was told she could not legally vote on the issue.