Leaders reaction varied

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 7, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &8212; Reaction from city leaders to news that a Marengo County Grand Jury indicted Mayor Cecil Williamson on two felony theft charges ranged from shock to regret while most people said she should remain in office until the legal proceedings have ended.

The indictments charge that Williamson knowingly and intentionally obtained city funds for personal use and knowingly obtained city funds for personal use by deception. District Attorney Greg Griggers said he sought the indictments at the request of the full city council.

Both indictments involve the mayor receiving health benefits paid for by the city for two years. The insurance payments were never authorized by the city, which on at least two separate occasions denied her request for benefits. Williamson paid the city back for the premiums in October.

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Councilman Melvin Yelverton said the council &8220;didn&8217;t have any choice&8221; in asking Griggers to seek the indictments, but that he felt bad for the damage it could do to the city.

Councilman Woody Collins echoed those sentiments, saying he had hoped the Alabama Ethics Commission would have investigated the matter and put it to rest. The commission said in an Oct. 12, 2006, letter that since Williamson paid back the money used for the premiums that it would not investigate the matter any further. Because of that, Collins said the council felt it had to act.

Former Mayor Austin Caldwell said he was sorry to hear his successor was indicted.

Caldwell said he is confident that the council acted &8220;in the best interest of the people of Demopolis&8221;.

Mike Grayson, who ran for mayor against Williamson, said he knew of the controversy concerning her health insurance but thought the matter had been put to bed.

School Board Member Laura Foster, who has been a supporter of the mayor, was &8220;really surprised and shocked&8221; at the grand jury&8217;s decision.

Foster said the impact the indictments have on the city and how the people of the city react will depend largely on &8220;whether (Williamson) will take a leave of absence&8221;. Foster said she was not advocating any such action by the mayor, adding that she was &8220;floored by this. I will be praying for her.&8221;

Yelverton said he did not think Williamson should step down at this time.

Collins said his greatest concern was how the indictments would affect the city but that he had no idea whether or not the mayor would step aside &8212; temporarily or permanently.

Councilman Thomas Moore said the legal system should be allowed to work in this matter.

Griggers said Williamson is scheduled to be arraigned on March 6. If convicted, Williamson faces two to 20 years on each count.

Managing editor Gennie Phillips and staff writer Brandon Glover contributed to this report.