Debate still on over Williams settlement

FOREST PARK — Mayor David Lockhart told residents Tuesday night that he thinks former City Manager John Parker was solely responsible for the $35,000 settlement to a former councilwoman.

However, Parker and former City Attorney Robert Mack defended themselves against accusations of their involvement in the decision to settle a federal lawsuit brought by ousted Councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams.

Williams made the announcement of the settlement during an August council meeting where she was allowed to take the floor to speak directly to the council — in a speech captured by an alerted Atlanta television news camera.

Lockhart quizzed each member of the council during a subsequent meeting and all denied knowing about the settlement until that announcement.

The person responsible, he told the board again Tuesday, was Parker.

“The insurance company attorney said it was John Parker and has continued to communicate, emphatically, without reservation that it was John Parker,” said Lockhart. “I have been clear from the beginning, the insurance company attorney’s information has not changed and has been consistent from the beginning. It was John Parker and John Parker alone.”

Lockhart went on to say that the settlement papers were signed after Parker left office in June but the authorization was given before then. An offer of $10,000 was made in writing, said Lockhart, but the $35,000 figure was made verbally.

Not true, Parker said last month and again Tuesday.

“I know you are regurgitating what you have heard from the insurance company attorneys but what you have said is untrue,” he said. “I defy anyone here or in the state of Georgia to prove I approved anything. I know nothing of the $35,000. The only figure I knew of was the $10,000. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

Lockhart said Parker was “absolutely correct” in the assessment he was relying on information provided to him and took the opportunity to confront Parker directly.

“Did you authorize the judgment?” said Lockhart.

Again, Parker denied it.

“No, I would never authorize a judgment against the city,” he said. “When you repeat this story and I’m sure you will, put my side of the story out there, too.”

Parker has said as city manager, he didn’t have the authority to approve a settlement. He acknowledged telling the insurance company that settling for $10,000 was preferable to an expensive drawn-out legal battle but that he would have to take that suggestion to the council for an affirmative vote.

Mack addressed the same issue during the public comments portion of the meeting.

“There have been inflammatory comments in reference to the lawsuit brought by Karen-Brandee Williams and I could not sit idly by and let a lie go unchallenged,” he said.

Mack’s law firm, Mack and Harris, had been the city’s attorneys since 2006 but was fired May 6, the day before the $10,000 offer was discussed in an email between Parker and the insurance company attorneys.

Lockhart said Mack’s position “comports by and large with what the attorney said,” that the law firm was not involved in the settlement.

Williams, who said she suffers from fibromyalgia, sued the city alleging a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. When she was Ward 2 councilwoman, Williams asked the city to buy a special chair for her to use during meetings.

Instead, the city had workers build a ramp so she could wheel her own chair onto the dais.

No one has acknowledged approving the $35,000 figure. Clayton News Daily is waiting on documents related to the settlement sought through an open records request.