A Clayton County grand jury Wednesday indicted an ousted Forest Park City Council member on charges connected with her July removal from office.
Karen-Brandee Williams was indicted in Clayton County Superior Court for theft by deception, violation of her oath of public office and false swearing. Williams could not immediately be reached for comment. Atlanta attorney Quinton Washington represents Williams in her battle to regain her council seat.
“I am 90 percent sure she will plead not guilty and will fight these charges,” Washington said Wednesday afternoon when told about the indictment by a reporter.
Washington said he had no information on a surrender plan for Williams. Williams will be arrested and booked into the Clayton County Jail. It is unclear if she will get an immediate bond or if she will have to make a first appearance in Clayton Magistrate Court to get a bond set.
According to Georgia state law, theft by deception is a misdemeanor unless the value of the items is more than $500. The other two charges are felonies, according to state law. If convicted, Williams could go to prison.
Forest Park City Manager John Parker testified before the grand jury. He said he doesn’t anticipate the criminal charges to impact the civil action Williams filed to get back on Council.
“If she is convicted of a felony, she won’t be able to hold office, of course,” he said.
Williams was elected to represent Ward 2 in 2009. Several residents filed a complaint against her in 2010, citing violations of the city’s code of ethics. After hearing evidence on the 25 allegations, the presiding officer sustained 15 of the counts.
The officer also determined Williams misappropriated funds by using tax dollars to buy T-shirts displaying information interpreted as campaign materials. Williams insists that the shirts were meant to promote a city-approved event. During the last Council meeting before Williams was ousted by the board, she made a public plea.
“I wanted to be able to support local businesses, to be able to make T-shirts for unity and visibility,” she said at the July 18 meeting. “We’re talking $300 or less and that’s misappropriation of funds? I was not able to get funds except through the clerk.”
About 20 residents also attended the meeting and begged Council to let the voters decide to let Williams stay or vote her out when her term ended in 2013. Maureen Lee was one of those residents.
“We are here to ask council to not remove her,” said Lee during the July meeting. “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.”
Williams was removed from the board July 28. She has filed an appeal in Clayton County Superior Court. 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.
Williams states in her filing that the errors 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.
Washington said he has asked for a court date in the civil action but has not been assigned one yet. The Ward 2 seat remains vacant until a final ruling is issued in the matter.