In a stunning late night decision, the Atlanta City Council has voted down Mayor Kasim Reed’s appointment of disbarred former councilman H. Lamar Willis to the Fulton County / City of Atlanta Land Bank Authority.
The vote — seven yea, eight nay — marks the first time in recent history that the council has voted against a high-profile Reed initiative, and could signal a decisive turn in the mayor’s second term.
Reed’s recent appointment of Willis, who was disbarred in 2013 for depositing roughly $30,000 intended for an injured child into his own coffers, was immediately pounced upon by some government watchdog groups who decried the move as evidence of cronyism at City Hall. Left-leaning advocacy group Better Georgia launched a social media campaign against his appointment in recent days.
Willis, who blamed the legal violation on an administrative error, was ousted from his at-large seat later that year by challenger Andre Dickens. Many critics of Reed’s appointment noted that voters sent a clear message when replacing him in 2013.
But many others, including some of the councilmembers who supported his return to city politics, have said the three-term former councilman with a background in policy analysis and urban studies is not only qualified, but deserves another shot at public service.
They point out that Willis’ infractions, which include failing to properly register a nonprofit that raised money for student scholarships, a violation for which he was fined $25,000 in 2009, were outside of his duties as a councilmember.
Willis declined comment when reached late Monday night. A spokeswoman for Reed said that the mayor “respects the process and will of the council.”
Snapper Mack, a member of the Castleberry Hill Neighborhood Association who spoke against Willis’ appointment at Monday’s council meeting, asked councilmembers if they would hire a vendor who performed poorly or overcharged clients. “At this particular time we don’t need someone who is extremely questionable,” he said.
But Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who supported Willis, drew parallels to a criminal who served his or her time in questioning how long he must wait before he’s allowed to return to public service.
“Should we punish him forever? Are we going to continue to say he should never be in public service again?” she asked.
Willis’ appointment sailed through two committees before it was taken up by the full council. In a rare move, Council President Ceasar Mitchell was tasked with casting the decisive vote when the council was locked in a tie. Councilman Michael Bond, who had previously supported Willis’ appointment, was absent from council chambers during the contentious decision.
The Land Bank, consisting of two board representatives from Atlanta and two from Fulton County, oversees the redevelopment of blighted properties. Willis was set to replace Paul Vranicar, who was recently named Vice President & Managing General Counsel for Policy & Governance of the Atlanta Housing Authority. The authority position is unpaid.
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