Williamson allegedly asked payroll official to continue payments in 2005

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 10, 2007

DEMOPOLIS &8212; Two former city employees say Mayor Cecil Williamson never instructed them to start paying for her benefits with city funds, but one said the mayor asked her to continue the payments until she could negotiate further with the Water Board over her benefits package.

Williamson faces two felony counts of theft of city property for receiving health insurance paid for with public funds without city approval.

Former city payroll clerk Paula Rich said she filed enrollment forms with BlueCross/BlueShield of Alabama on behalf of the mayor at the instruction of then-City Clerk Vickie Taylor. Taylor, who was removed from her position just days after the mayor took office, said that she would have made arrangements for the incoming mayor prior to the mayor&8217;s swearing in. Taylor said she was no longer the city clerk when the enrollment papers were filed.

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Rich said she and Taylor were following the same protocol they had used for former Mayor Austin Caldwell. Under Caldwell&8217;s compensation plan, the Water Board paid for half of the cost of his monthly insurance premiums and he paid the other half. His salary from the Water Board was $600 per month.

However, the Water Board set up a different compensation package for Williamson when she was elected mayor. On Dec. 6, 2004, the Water Board passed a package that paid the mayor $1,000 per month but included no benefits. The package was retroactive to Oct. 1, 2004, which is when the mayor took office.

Rich also confirmed Friday that she wrote a May 27, 2005, memo to the Water Board saying that the city had paid monthly premiums in the amount $622 to cover the cost of health insurance for Williamson. The memo said 12 premiums had been paid by the city and that the total invoice to the Water Board for reimbursement to the city was in the amount of $7,464.

Rich could not recall exactly when she filed the enrollment forms but that it would have been prior to the Dec. 6, 2004, meeting.

After writing the May 27, 2005, memo, Rich said she was told by Water Board members that the mayor was to pay for the premiums herself. Rich said she spoke with the mayor about the $7,464 invoice.

The meeting, Rich said, took place in the mayor&8217;s office. Rich said Williamson told her to continue paying the premiums as she had been paying them because the mayor was still negotiating with the Water Board to have the city cover the expense.

During a June 6, 2005, meeting of the Water Board, the mayor asked the board to provide her with health insurance as they had done for her predecessor. The board denied the request, saying that they increased the salary for the position to compensate for the lack of benefits.

A grand jury indicted Williamson on Wednesday. District Attorney Greg Griggers said he pursued the indictments after being asked to do so by the city council.

Four of the five councilmen confirmed they asked the district attorney to investigate the mayor&8217;s health insurance after the Ethics Commission refused to launch an inquiry into the matter. Councilman Jack Cooley has not been able to be reached for comment since the indictments were handed down.

Williamson turned herself in to Sheriff Jesse Langley on Thursday morning. She was released on $2,000 bond. She awaits an arraignment hearing on March 6.

Williamson said Wednesday that she was following the advice of her legal council and would have no comment on the matter.