South Fulton hearing set that could lead to council member’s removal

City of South Fulton Councilwoman Helen Zenobia Willis is accused of steering a development deal away from the city. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com AJC FILE PHOTO

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City of South Fulton Councilwoman Helen Zenobia Willis is accused of steering a development deal away from the city. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com AJC FILE PHOTO

The city of South Fulton has set a hearing date in the investigation of a council member who was accused of steering business away from the city's development authority and creating a hostile work environment.

John Mrosek, an attorney who investigated the claims for the city, told council members Tuesday that he had found enough evidence of Helen Zenobia Willis' wrongdoing to move forward with the proceedings.

In a 6-1 vote, with Willis the only one opposed, the council agreed to hold an evidentiary hearing on Dec. 10.

Mrosek emphasized that Willis had done nothing illegal, but the proceedings could still lead to her removal from council. She was re-elected to a second term in the two-year-old city earlier this month, when she ran unopposed.

Willis declined to comment. Her attorney, Antavius Weems, said the proceedings were “an effort to embarrass and molest” Willis.

"This is the silly season," Weems said. "Growing pains of a new city don't resemble this. This is sour grapes."

Earlier this year, Willis supported a tax abatement on a $27 million expansion of Halperns’ Steak and Seafood Co., which is located in South Fulton. The company went to the Development Authority of Fulton County for the deal. Council members said that Willis should have directed the project to the city’s new development authority, instead, and said by not doing so, Willis cost the city money.

Mrosek said it was opportunity that was lost, but he said there was evidence that Willis interfered in the process. She spoke at the Fulton development authority in support of the deal; no one from the city's development authority participated or was informed, he said.

Willis said previously she had nothing to do with where Halperns’ chose to go.

“Did Councilwoman Willis exceed her authority? That’s the issue,” Mrosek said.

Her fellow elected officials, he said, would sit as a jury to determine her fate. In addition to taking steps to remove Willis from office, he said, they could reprimand her or could choose to dismiss the case.

Naeema Gilyard, another member of council, said she hoped the hearing would help the council understand what happened.

“All I want is the truth,” Gilyard said. “I just want to get to the facts, and we don’t have it yet.”