Forest Park councilwoman appeals ethics ruling

A Forest Park councilwoman has gone to court to appeal a recent ruling that found her guilty of multiple ethical violations.

Karen-Brandee Williams was found guilty on 15 charges that center on her correspondence with city department heads.

The ruling was handed down in late May by Jonesboro attorney Deborah Leslie, who heard the case in April. Leslie dismissed 10 of the 25 charges brought against Williams by several Forest Park residents.

It's now up to the City Council to determine what happens to Williams, which could range from a reprimand or fine to possible removal from office. The council will take up the matter at its July 18 meeting.

In the meantime, Williams filed an appeal June 24 with the Clayton County Superior Court and filed an amendment this week appealing the entire ethics process.

“I don’t know what [the council's] decision will be," Williams said. "But right now I’m appealing not only the final ruling of the hearing officer but I’m also challenging the entire process through superior court. The whole thing is bogus. It should have never gotten this far."

At issue is whether  Williams "ordered" city personnel to do a series of tasks, as alleged in the complaint filed by three Forest Park residents, or whether she simply made inquiries and requests as an elected official.

The complaints include that she ordered a city department head to remove a sign, a police officer to give a speech and a city director to plant a flower bed at an intersection.

Williams also is accused of using money from her Ward 2 fund to print T-shirts with her name and phone number on them. She said the T-shirts were given to constituents to make it easier for them to contact her. But Leslie ruled the shirts were campaign paraphernalia.

Since the ethics ruling, the council has met twice in closed-door executive sessions without Williams present.

"It doesn't give me an opportunity to hear what's going on," she said.

Williams said the harsh treatment she's experiencing -- the ethics charges and being shunned by city officials and department heads --  is in response to her request for a special chair to accommodate her fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue.

Attorneys for Forest Park were unavailable for comment, but City Manager John Parker said, "Everyone would like to have it resolved. It's one of those kinds of things that's very energy-consuming."

To date, the cost to the city has been "minimal," Parker said, with the only outside costs being the hiring of the hearing officer, which amounted to $10,372, and the court reporter services, which cost $1,649.

Regardless of the outcome, Williams said the case has put a financial burden on her and likely will discourage would-be local politicians from running for office.

"It's sad for anyone to have to go through this," Williams said.

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