Forest Park council seat remains in limbo

Members of the Forest Park Board of Ethics met Tuesday to wrap up 2011 and review the city's ordinance pertaining to that committee, but the discussion turned to the vacant Ward 2 City Council seat.

In January 2011, the board considered an ethics complaint against Ward 2 Councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams. Members also recommended the appointment of a hearing officer at Williams' request.

After considering evidence and testimony presented at the hearing, the council voted, in July, to remove Williams from office. She has appealed the decision to Clayton County Superior Court, and her seat remains vacant.

Board members asked City Attorney Joe Harris about filling the seat.

"We can't do anything until the court makes a decision," said Harris. "If the judge reverses the city's decision, and we've filled that seat, there will be two people in one office. We can't have that. We just have to wait for the court's decision."

Williams has always maintained her innocence and denied any wrongdoing. She declined to comment, or discuss the status of her appeal. "I don't think I will be making a comment on this issue at this time," she said.

City Attorney Robert Mack previously said the July 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.

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 was interpreted as being a campaign ploy, rather than a promotion of a city-approved event.

Ward 2 is the city's only majority black district and committee members wondered about representation for those residents. City Manager John Parker said the residents are being served.

"All members of council and the mayor represent all the citizens of Forest Park," said Parker. "They just don't have a member from that ward."

Under Georgia law, there are four times a year when a governing entity can hold a special election.

"But if it is close enough to the end of a term, the council can appoint a replacement, instead, to spare the taxpayers the cost of an election," said Harris.

Once the appeal runs its course through the judicial process, the council can decide how to best fill the vacant seat. Williams' term is set to end in December 2013.

Harris also went over the city's ethics ordinance with committee members, reminding them that a filing fee has been added.

"The council adopted a filing fee to stop unethical claims," said Harris. "They now require a $50 fee to file a complaint. If the claim is founded, the fee is returned. If it is unfounded, the city retains the fee to cover costs."