WR councilman’s case goes to governor

ATLANTA -- About 20 minutes after convening a review hearing Thursday to explore the possible suspension of a Warner Robins councilman, the commission made its decision. However, that decision will not be revealed until Gov. Nathan Deal issues an order.

“He doesn’t have a timeframe to make a decision,” Attorney General Sam Olens said.

The panel was to decide whether Councilman John Williams’s felony indictment of making false statements and writings has a bearing on his position or the public he serves, according to Georgia statute. If so, Williams would be suspended until the pending criminal case is resolved.

“What I wanted to highlight here for Mr. Williams is there’s nothing here that has to do with Mr. Williams’ position,” Charlie Cox, Williams’s attorney, told the review commission. “Lacking that tie ... it would not be necessary to suspend Williams.”

A grand jury indicted Williams in November on a felony charge of false writings and statements. The charge originates from Williams reporting a city-issued cell phone stolen to Warner Robins police officers.

The panel, which included Olens, Vienna Councilwoman Beth English and Macon Councilman Rick Hutto, asked Williams only one question during the 10-minute hearing Thursday. Hutto asked whether the cell phone was city-issued.

Cox answered in the affirmative, and the panel retired to Olens’ office for about 10 more minutes of deliberation.

Olens said a closed recommendation letter would be sent to the governor’s office by the end of the business day Thursday.

“There would be no public activity until such time that the governor took action regarding this procedure,” Olens said.

If the panel recommended suspension, the governor can decide whether to suspend Williams. If they decide against suspension, Deal does not have the option to suspend Williams.

Whether the case should have been reviewed for possible suspension is a matter of interpretation.

According to state code, after a public official has been indicted with a felony that “relates to the performance or activities of the office,” the attorney general or district attorney “shall” send the case to the governor to appoint a review commission.

Dublin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Craig Fraser, who was named special prosecutor in the case, said Wednesday that he did not send the case the governor’s office.

“The reasoning ... was, when Mr. Fraser looked at it, based on the charges that we brought on (Williams), they didn’t have anything to do with the position he was serving,” said Brandon Faircloth, Dublin Judicial Circuit deputy chief assistant district attorney.

Olens said former Gov. Sonny Perdue decided prior the end of his term that the case did merit a review commission. Deal issued an order Jan. 27 to appoint the commission.

If the panel recommends suspension and Deal indeed suspends Williams, Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen and City Council will appoint a replacement for the remainder of his term, according to the city’s charter.

The appointee would have to live within the district that Williams represents, which is City Council District 6. Williams is up for re-election in November.

Cox also argued to the commission that the charges against Williams -- but not the question before the panel -- were politically motivated.

“I would be remiss if I did not simply point out to the commission ... this case comes out of a political atmosphere in Warner Robins that is highly charged,” he said. “I believe that the indictment has to be read in that light.”

To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.