As indicted mayor steps aside, meet Snellville’s de facto new leader

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As indicted mayor steps aside, meet Snellville’s de facto new leader

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Barbara Bender (via snellville.org)

Six years ago, Barbara Bender ran for the mayor of Snellville.

That campaign was unsuccessful, but Bender finally got her wish Monday night, in duty if not in name — and under unusual, possibly temporary circumstances.

In a statement read in his absence during Monday’s City Council meeting, Snellville Mayor Tom Witts — who was indicted earlier this month on 65 felony counts — announced he was suspending himself from office to focus on his defense. 

That leaves Bender, a councilwoman and mayor pro tem, holding the reins for the foreseeable future. 

Under Snellville’s charter, the mayor pro tem, who is chosen by their fellow councilmembers, fills in when the mayor is unable to perform their duties.

“This City Council pledges to continue to serve you to the best of our abilities,” Bender said at Monday’s meeting. “We will continue the progress we have made in the past two years, and we will continue to work together in a respectful manner for the good of our city.”

Snellville Mayor Tom Witts is accused of using campaign funds to purchase a Caribbean cruise, airline tickets and a six-month subscription to porn sites.

Bender, an accountant and mother of two, was first elected to the City Council in 2005. She served until 2011, when she made her unsuccessful run for mayor. 

Bender’s campaign had been publicly backed by several council colleagues, including Witts. The election instead of opponent Kelly Kautz set off years of discord — and litigation — within the city government.

Bender was rejoined the City Council in 2013 (and is slated for an unopposed re-election bid this fall). When Witts ousted Kautz in 2015’s mayoral election, things at City Hall largely calmed down.

But Witts was indicted on Sept. 7, the widepsread allegations ranging from tax evasion and misuse of campaign funds to his business improperly doing work for the city. He turned himself in a week later and was facing a possible suspension from Gov. Nathan Deal when he made Monday’s announcement.

Witts is likely to be arraigned within the next month or so, District Attorney Danny Porter has said, but getting to trial could take much longer. 

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