Willis to Franklin, Woolard, Dickens: Mind your ethics before attacking mine; Franklin fires back

By David Pendered

Atlanta City Councilmember H. Lamar Willis said Friday that former Mayor Shirley Franklin, former council President Cathy Woolard and candidate Andre Dickens are hypocrites for saying that Willis is ethically unfit for public office.

Atlanta Councilmember H. Lamar Willis spoke on the steps of City Hall regarding attacks on his integrity by former Mayor Shirley Franklin and former council President Cathy Woolard. Credit: David Pendered

Atlanta Councilmember H. Lamar Willis spoke on the steps of City Hall regarding attacks on his integrity by former Mayor Shirley Franklin and former council President Cathy Woolard. Credit: David Pendered

Willis made his remarks on the steps of Atlanta City Hall. Willis, who is seeking his fourth term, said he is a human being who has sought to atone for missteps in his personal life, wants the campaign to focus on governance issues, and is pushing back against the two former elected officials.

Willis raised these ethical issues about his accusers: Franklin provided haven in her home to her daughter and her then-son-in-law, who’s now serving a life sentence for his role in smuggling more than a ton of cocaine in a transcontinental operation; Woolard stopped working for Atlanta half way through her term in order to focus on her (unsuccessful) campaign for Congress; Dickens was a resident of Rex, not Atlanta, when he filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and evidently moved there in order to avoid tapping his wife’s assets to pay his creditors.

More than a dozen supporters flanked Willis as he presented his public rebuttal to criticism filed Tuesday by Franklin and Woolard. The two former elected officials made their case at an endorsement event for Dickens, who took the podium to say he thinks Atlanta should have an ethical government.

Willis made his response in a methodical fashion in front of a half-dozen reporters. Willis released his written remarks Friday afternoon. Here are some highlights of his presentation during a follow-up conversation with reporters:

Willis regarding Franklin:

  • “Mayor Franklin had many, many challenges during her tenure as mayor. Frankly, she dealt with them publicly while trying to be a mother and the mayor. To the extent there were missteps, arguably on numerous occasions, in my opinion, I felt it difficult to understand how she could so savagely attack me.
  • “Mayor Franklin’s daughter was married to a drug trafficking murderer. When that individual was given bond, he resided in the mayor’s home under protection that is provided at taxpayer expense. That is the place from which he escaped when he was on the lamb for a significant period of time.
  • “No one called for her resignation. No one called for a change in the police department. No one called for a change in how she administered this government. I take issue with what is a personal matter to be construed as one that impacts my ability to serve.
  • “If my actions have caused me to be unfit, she should have submitted her resignation long before she left office. To the extent that it was not necessary for her, my ability to serve is more than reasonable and I’m more than competent to serve, given my track record and my performance.”

Franklin responded with this comment late Friday:

  • “Once again Mr. Willis’ behavior is disappointing. His vicious verbal attack on me and my family indicate he is not fit for public office. Based on his comments today, he is a desperate man willing to say and do anything to win an election. If this is an effort to silence my voice, I am reminded of when once upon a time women were to be seen and not heard.
  • “The idea that I attacked him personally is absurd. I have stated the facts about his disbarment for stealing a client’s money and his repeated unethical behavior. This isn’t my opinion it is fact. As a longtime Atlantan, a woman of integrity and a former mayor I have chosen to support and endorse, Andre Dickens, a candidate who values a strong ethical commitment to good government. I will not apologize for that endorsement, no matter how baseless and dishonest Mr. Willis’ attacks. My public service and ethics reform are a matter of public record.”
Atlanta Councilmember H. Lamar Willis' event to discuss attacks on his ethics attracted a half-dozen reporters. Credit: David Pendered

Atlanta Councilmember H. Lamar Willis’ event to discuss attacks on his ethics attracted a half-dozen reporters. Credit: David Pendered

Willis regarding Woolard:

  • “She doesn’t know me because she quit on the job long before she had a chance to know me. She quit two years into her job as president of the city council. She decided to give up on the city she loves. I’m not willing to do that.”

Willis regarding Dickens:

  • “He was a resident of Rex, Ga. when he filed bankruptcy. He established in those documents he was separated and living in Rex, Ga., and that bankruptcy was filed in 2011.
  • “There are only two things we can ask: One, he needs to show he has become a resident of the City of Atlanta, appropriately; Two, the question that I think the federal bank court should have is whether he decided to utilize that residency option such as to avoid having to pay, or use his wife’s assets as part of repayment for, a multimillion dollar debt.”

The Georgia Supreme Court ordered Oct. 7 that Willis be disbarred from the practice of law for ethical breeches. Mayor Kasim Reed has remained a steadfast ally.

Franklin’s daughter pleaded guilty in federal court in South Carolina, in 2007, to helping her ex-husband launder drug money by converting it to postal money orders.

Creative Loafing provided extensive coverage of the drug sting that netted Franklin’s daughter and former son-in-law, Tremayne Graham. Graham was implicated, but not charged, in a double homicide in Atlanta allegedly related to the drug ring. Former CL editor Mara Shalhoup wrote about the ring in a 2010 book, BMF: The Rise and Fall of Big Meech and the Black Family Mafia.

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

6 replies
  1. scfranklin says:

    Mr. Willis has not one shed of evidence about wrong doing on my part.  Nor can he present any because it doesn’t exist.  He on the other hand  has been found guilty and disbarred for his illegal and unethical behavior by the unanimous decision of the GA Supreme Court two weeks ago.  He cannot hide from the truth by attacking me or my family.
    I have never made any comments about his family nor will I.  Such conduct is reprehensible.
    Mr. Willis has proven time after time  that he cannot be trusted to follow the law whether the federal laws that govern charitable organizations ,  the Atlanta Ordinance which sets forth the Ethics Code or the standards set to practice law.
    With his vicious personal attacks Mr. Willis seeks to distract the conversation from his problems which cost him his law license and $25,000 in fines for forming and operating a fake charity and keeping much of the money himself.
    Shame on Mr. Willis. And shame on those who believe his behavior is acceptable for any public official.Report

    Reply
  2. Ben Howard Senior Advoc says:

    Crosswalk at Providence Manor so Seniors may access MARTA safely.  Sidewalks along the Campbellton-Cascade Corridor.  In Senior Zones: analysis of adherence/non-adherence to posted Speed Limits; analysis of Fire Truck Response Times to Senior Facilities.  Affordable Housing Impact Statement.  Monthly Fort McPherson reports.  Breaking down the “Crime is Down” reports.  Transparency in the distribution of CDBG [Community Development Block Grant] funds.  Toward an understanding of the Sidewalk Trust Fund.  Transparency relative to Councilmembers’ Carry Forward Non-Departmental Accounts.  Commission On Aging.  Commission on Veterans Affairs.  Youth Commission.  Real-Life definition of “Affordable Housing”.  Real-Life rationale for continuing to fight the Judge’s decision[s] that would allow Atlanta Vendors go back to work.  Assessing the Stress placed upon City Employees by City Legislators and Administrators.  Separate, Independent  Counsel for City Council.  Designation of ONE Councilmember [a la Governor’s Floor Leader] to carry legislation for the Administration.Report

    Reply
  3. Avenger says:

    Crook. Always has been pne. Always will be Those defending him should d their research. He abused his position in government to gain $$$ for his personal use from his position on teh Hartsfield Jackson board. If Mayor Reed continues to support him through all this one has to wonder why?Report

    Reply
  4. Avenger says:

    Crook. Always has been one. Always will be. Those defending him should do their research. He abused his position in government to gain $$$ for his personal use from his position on the Hartsfield Jackson board. Remember the AJC report that he collected money for a non-profit that never existed? Remember Atlanta did a check adn found out he never registered? Did he return the thousands of dollars he stole from truly needy kinds? If Mayor Reed continues to support him through all this one has to wonder why? – See more at: http://saportareport.com/blog/2013/10/willis-to-franklin-woolard-dickens-mind-your-ethics-before-attacking-mine/#sthash.UDUN4ZbG.dpufReport

    Reply
  5. Avenger says:

    Crook. Always has been one. Always will be. Those defending him should do their research. He abused his position in government to gain $$$ for his personal use from his position on the Hartsfield Jackson board. Remember the AJC report that he collected money for a non-profit that never existed? Remember Atlanta did a check and found out he never registered? Did he return the thousands of dollars he stole from truly needy kids? If Mayor Reed continues to support him through all his disbarrment one has to wonder why! O_oReport

    Reply
  6. urban gardener says:

    I think the phrase is something along the lines of “it’s like taking candy from a baby”
    The only defense Mr. Willis has is a good offense, as he has already thoroughly explored the option of being offensiveReport

    Reply

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