Snellville City Council accepted the resignation of Mayor Tom Witts and appointed Council Member Barbara Bender as his replacement Monday night.
Bender will serve out the remaining months of Witts’ term, which goes through November 2019. Witts’ resignation was part of a plea agreement he reached with the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office.
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Witts was indicted on 66 charges in Sept. 2017, 65 of which were felonies. Prosecutors alleged Witts lied on candidacy forms about owing taxes, used campaign funds for a Caribbean cruise and improperly allowed his company, Georgia Property Restoration, to do business with the city.
Witts entered Alford pleas in December to 11 of the 66 criminal charges he was indicted on in 2017. Those included false statements, false swearing, theft by conversion and tax evasion. In addition to resigning, Witts will serve six months house arrest and 10 years probation and pay $40,000 in delinquent taxes. Witts’ Alford plea means he maintains he is not guilty, but acknowledges there is evidence that could convict him at trial and he is willing to accept punishment.
Bender’s appointment triggers a special election for her Post 5 seat. She was most recently re-elected in 2017, and her current term does not expire until 2021. Bender served on Snellville City Council from 2005 to 2011 and returned to the body in 2013. She is an accountant with her own firm in Lawrenceville.
“I appreciate your confidence in me to lead the board until the end of the term in November,” Bender said to the council after taking her oath of office.
Bender, fellow council members and several Snellville residents offered praise of Witts, saying he brought beneficial change to the city during his time as mayor and as a council member. Witts was not present at the meeting, as he and his wife are both undergoing cancer treatments, Bender said.
The special election for Bender’s seat will be held on March 19, with qualifying taking place on Jan. 22 and 23 at Snellville City Hall. Candidates must pay a qualifying fee of $240.
Council Member Roger Marmol objected to Bender’s appointment, saying in a prepared statement that he believed the city’s residents should have the same opportunity to elect a new mayor that they will to elect a new Post 5 council member.
“What the government is telling you is that you can vote for a council seat, but not for mayor, that’s too important,” Marmol said.
Bender was mayor pro tempore until minutes before her appointment. The city appoints a new mayor pro tempore at the beginning of each year, and Bender held that role for 2018. Council Member Dave Emanuel was appointed as mayor pro tempore for 2019 by a near-unanimous vote. The only abstention was Emanuel himself.
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