South Fulton’s first ethics hearing ends with more infighting likely

South Fulton Councilman Khalid Kamau was the subject of the city’s first ethics “mini-trial.” (HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM)

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South Fulton Councilman Khalid Kamau was the subject of the city’s first ethics “mini-trial.” (HENRY TAYLOR / HENRY.TAYLOR@AJC.COM)

The new city of South Fulton held its first ethics hearing this week, continuing a series of firsts it’d rather not have had before its third birthday.

After nearly two hours on Monday of the trial-like hearing — with a court reporter transcribing and attorneys presenting evidence — the complaint against city councilman Khalid Kamau was withdrawn just before his defense attorney made closing arguments.

Resident Patricia Wise accused Kamau of financial impropriety after the councilman left early from a four-day training session paid for with public money.

Kamau in late August attended the Robert E. Knox Jr. Municipal Leadership Institute on Jekyll Island, but left after Gov. Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency in Glynn and several other counties as Hurricane Dorian approached. Kamau was back in South Fulton by the time Kemp issued a mandatory evacuation order.

MORE | Georgia spared Dorian's destruction, but hurricane season not over

Of the 43 people who attended the seminar, including a fellow South Fulton council member, Kamau was the only one who left early and didn’t graduate.

“I don’t go to training to get certificates,” he said.

The councilman said he first heard the allegations at the same time Wise heard them: When councilwoman Helen Z. Willis accused Kamau of owing money to the city during a public hearing on Dec. 30.

That December hearing came after Kamau and three other council members unsuccessfully tried to remove Willis and Mayor Bill Edwards from office for their roles in a development deal. The council later agreed to pay back Willis and Edwards $30,000 in attorney fees they incurred defending themselves.

Kamau said he also plans to ask the council to repay his legal costs, and said he thinks he was targeted because he is planning to run for mayor.

The ethics complaint is yet another example of the infighting that the South Fulton City Council has aired in public since incorporating in May 2017. City leaders say they want to move forward while they snip at and investigate each other.

READ | South Fulton drama a rude awakening after dream of new city

During his opening remarks, Kamau’s attorney Scott Grubman said “there are members of the City Council and the city government who want to pay political retribution,” adding that there is “an obvious political game that’s being played.”

Wise said she had not met Willis and didn’t really know what she was getting herself into when she filed the complaint. “I am in no way here trying to send someone to jail or harm his position or his integrity or the type of man he is. I am trying to get to the bottom of a financial matter,” she said during her opening remarks.

Grubman — who represented Jenna Garlandthe first public official charged criminally under Georgia's public records statute — asked Wise if she wanted to withdraw her complaint just before he started his closing remarks, and she agreed.

“It seems like your complaint was rooted in hearsay by Councilwoman Willis,” ethics board member Stanley Muhammad told Wise.

“There’s a climate right now in the city of South Fulton that’s not the best,” he said. “… Don’t get pulled into that political climate.”

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