Offering a strong rebuke, the Atlanta Board of Ethics fined H. Lamar Willis
one of the largest amounts levied against an Atlanta city council member,
ruling that he accepted money for his foundation that was provided by
companies and people doing business with the city.
The board voted 7-0 to fine Willis $3,500, with $500 due on March 1. In 2009,
Ceasar Mitchell and Kwanza Hall had to pay $15,000 and $11,200,
respectively, in fines,
From 2002 to 2007, Willis operated the H. Lamar Willis Foundation, largely out
of his city council office and off the largess of people with something to
sell to the city, said Ginny Looney, city ethics officer.
Willis violated the city’s ban on accepting gratuities when it was revealed
that 58 percent of the donors to his foundation were people doing or seeking
business with the city, Looney said. Those people contributed 70 percent of
the overall funding.
“[Willis] violated the ban on gratuities when he accepted checks, donations
and sponsorships on behalf of his unincorporated foundation, which was under
his sole control and ownership, from companies doing business with the city,
seeking city business, or seeking official action,” Looney said.
In addition, Looney said much of the foundation’s work was done out of Willis’
city hall office.
“There is a difference between an elected official working on behalf of his
constituents and an elected official working on his private fundraising,
golf tournaments and operation of a foundation out of his public office,”
Willis, who was elected to the council in 2001, distributed between $85,000
and $90,000 in scholarship money from his foundation to Atlanta high school
seniors from 2003 to 2007. While it was registered with the Internal Revenue
Service and was given a tax identification number, his foundation was never
granted status as a tax-exempt charitable organization. It also was never
registered as a charitable organization in the Georgia Secretary of State’s
Looney said Willis’ actions showed an ongoing pattern, adding that he should
have known the foundation wasn’t incorporated. Willis already had been
assessed a $25,000 civil penalty from the state, and has been enjoined by
court order from soliciting charitable contributions.
“This happened four years ago and I was ready for it to be over; everything
that could have been acknowledged as an error on my part or staff, I
accepted full responsibility of it 2007,” Willis said Thursday night. “The
point that this is the final chapter brings closure to this issue for me and
my family, and allows me to move forward as a committed public servant who
wants to do what is right for the city.
"We will just make sure that we dot our I’s and cross the T’s in the
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