FOREST PARK — Members of the Urban Redevelopment Agency of Forest Park have run afoul of Mayor Angelyne Butler, who reportedly has had City Attorney Mike Williams deliver letters of resignation to them and demanded that they attend a hearing before the City Council at 5 p.m. on Feb. 4.
Butler said she would be present at the Jan. 30 URA meeting to discuss allegations of the board's wrongdoing.
Butler sent letters dated Jan. 22 to all URA Board members, demanding they appear at a Feb. 4 hearing on allegations they were derelict in their duties by refusing to approve a request to approve $20 million in bonds for the new fire station, Starr Park improvements and a new police station.
In response to an Open Records Request, the city provided copies of the letters charging Frank Brandon, Trudy Smith, Felicia Davis, Don Wright and Pamela Lake with "(i)nsufficiency, neglect of duty, or misconduct in office inasmuch as each of the members of the URA Board has failed to cooperate in good faith with the City of Forest Park in the consideration of providing assistance to the City in financing City facilities including a new fire station and headquarters facility, park improvements and a potential new police headquarters facility."
Butler's letters to Brandon and Smith alleged as misconduct that "you have actively and vocally worked against various City initiatives and utilized your status as a URA Board member to lend legitimacy to your political activity against City officials."
Butler also accused Brandon of repeatedly failing "to make yourself available at City Hall to signed (sic) documents, approve routine payments and otherwise carry out the role of Chairman which has caused unnecessary delay and embarrassment to the City."
Brandon said he has sometimes been unable to come to City Hall because he has Stage IV COPD but that he has only missed one meeting in six years. He said the board is not "a rubber stamp" and that the city already owes $4 million this summer to the Army for Fort Gillem. "We've got too much debt right now," he said. "I can see a new fire station, but $1 million would solve the bulletproof glass problem at the police station."
Brandon had submitted a written resignation, dated Jan. 13, stating that "Effective Wednesday, January 8, 2020, I have resigned from the chairmanship and membership of the URA. I wish all of the full time employees of the city well." On Jan. 17, Brandon sent the city a letter rescinding his resignation, "which letter is rejected as invalid," according to Butler. Despite his resignation, Butler said, "the City Council is willing to allow you the opportunity to be heard" at the Feb. 4 hearing. In addition, Butler wrote, the city would not object to Brandon's taking part in the Jan. 30 meeting but would object to his "chairing or otherwise presiding over and/or voting at the meeting."
According to a Jan. 27 letter from Smith in response to Butler, URA Chair Frank Brandon resigned but then rescinded his resignation after, she said, Williams tried to get board members to sign "pre-typed resignation letters."
Brandon said, "Their charges are specious on their face."
She accused Williams of having "manipulated" Brandon into signing the letter. Smith also alleged that Williams "gave information that certain members did sign resignation letters which was false as four members had not signed the letters." Smith said she informed the State of Georgia General Counsel's office of the alleged incident.
Williams told the News, "I did meet with most of the board members to discuss this. Two of the member(s) did agree to step aside, indicating that they would not oppose the city's restructuring of the board, and that is what I told Mr. Brandon."
Smith said she recorded her meeting with Williams, during which she alleges that "he attempted to bully and intimidate me by saying the mayor and council wanted the resignations so they could move in a different direction. Since we declined to sign the letters these fraudulent charges were levied to remove us from office. Mr. Williams stated it would be done the easy way or the hard way."
Williams responded, "My message to Ms. Smith was the same as to the others, that the city wanted to make these changes in an amicable, respectful way that honored their service on the board. I also said that we did NOT want to go about this in a disagreeable combative manner, but that the city had the right to make these changes. This is precisely why I contacted the board members individually and in private to allow them the opportunity (to) step aside in a dignified manner."
Butler also alleged that Smith engaged in "(m)isconduct in office inasmuch as you have actively and vocally worked against various City initiatives and utilized your status as a URA Board member to lend legitimacy to your political activity against City officials." Smith replied it was her "civic duty" to disagree with elected officials "when I feel the best interest of the city they were elected to serve is not being met" and accused the mayor of violating her First Amendment rights. She added her position on the URA "has nothing to do with my opinions as a private citizen."
Smith and others unhappy with the current administration allegedly have been circulating a petition to recall Butler, something floated in July 2018 before Butler vetoed a pay raise for herself and councilmembers. At the time, Butler said she would not be intimidated but use her veto as she thought was necessary. Smith told the News, "No recall petition has been issued at this point."
Smith said she thinks city officials want to "move the powers to the DDA since it is stacked with their yes people." DDA members include Butler, former City Manager Angela Redding, developer Steve Bernard, Lois Wright, Eliot Lawrence, Pamela Cisneros and former Clayton Chamber of Commerce CEO Jeremy Stratton. The City Council fired Redding Jan. 6 and the Chamber fired Stratton in November 2019.
"My questions are where is the evidence, why the urgency and what do they stand to gain?" Smith said. "We are a fully functioning board, and I resent having my character maligned like this."
"It's a matter of pride for me," Brandon said. "I've done a lot for this city .... I've never seen (a politician) this vindictive."