Forest Park mayor retires amid ethics complaint

The mayor of Forest Park vigorously disputed assertions Wednesday that she is resigning her post to avoid dealing with ethics charges filed against her last month.

Corine C. Deyton’s term isn’t scheduled to end until December 2013. But, at a city council meeting Tuesday, Mayor Pro Tem Sparkle Adams read a letter from Deyton that announced she would retire Oct. 15. Deyton is 75 years old.

Last week, Forest Park resident Kim James filed an ethics complaint against Deyton, saying she was derelict in her duties as mayor because she hadn’t attended council meetings or met other mayoral obligations since May, but was still getting paid. James said she began asking about Deyton’s absence about two months ago and was told initially told by city officials that they “didn’t know the reason for the absence.”

James questioned the timing of Deyton’s retirement. But Deyton said she resigned partly because she’s having trouble handling the death of her long-time companion Doyal Barnett. “I stepped down because I lost my significant other and was having a hard time (dealing) with that. I stepped down to give someone else a chance because I care what happens to this city,” she said Wednesday.

“We’ve got too much at stake,” she added, referring to the city’s efforts to redevelop a large parcel of Fort Gillem. “ We have too much good stuff happening in the city.”

In a copy of the ethics complaint obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, James alleges Deyton “failed to uphold her sworn oath of office… failed to perform powers and duties as mayor.” James also noted in the complaint that, “after she expressed possible concerns that the mayor may have memory impairment that could be taken advantage of, Deyton submitted a letter taking a temporary leave of absence.”

The complaint also stated Deyton “has been taking a temporary leave for personal stress but has received personal gain as she continues to get compensated for a service not rendered.”

“She got almost $6,000 (during that time) from the city as an absentee mayor and yet the city complained about $200 worth of T-shirts,” James said, referring to the council’s removal last year of former councilwoman Karen-Brandee Williams for allegedly misusing money from her ward funds to purchase T-shirts to give to constituents. Williams’ seat remains vacant.

The complaint also cited “conflicting information regarding Deyton’s absence. For instance, in one letter, Deyton requested a temporary leave due to personal stress and the sudden death of her companion. But in public comments on May 7, Mayor Pro Tem Sparkle Adams said Deyton had taken a leave of absence to have cataract surgery. Then, on Aug. 6, city attorney Robert Mack said he didn’t know when Deyton would return. On August 20, city manager John Parker said she would be back in two weeks.

James called Deyton’s decision to retire “a shocker,” but added, “I think it’s good for her. I wouldn’t want her to be taken advantage of.”

Deyton said she was paid during her leave but couldn’t remember how much. “I didn’t get that much,” she said. “I wasn’t there for the money.”

“I’m not going to take any more money from the city,” she said Wednesday.

She also vehemently refuted assertions that she has memory problems.

“ I know what day it is. I know what year it is. I know what’s going on. I was just going through a rough time, but I’m doing all right now,” said Deyton, who has spent 19 years in public service, as mayor and, before that, a city council member. She said she probably will attend some council meetings between now and October 15, but she also plans to take a break and go on a trip with her family, which includes two sons and five grandchildren.

City attorney Joe Harris said he wasn’t aware of Deyton having any memory issues or mental impairment.

“In fact, she’s been coming in two or three days a week to sign checks and documents.”

Parker said he was saddened by Deyton’s decision to leave.

“She has accomplished many, many worthwhile projects for Forest Park,” he said. “To see her retire certainly leaves a void.”

Councilwoman Latresa Akins, who joined the council last November, said Deyton “made a decision that was best for the city as well as herself. I wish her and her family the best. She’s been here so long. It will be an adjustment for her not being here.”