OUR VIEW: Were actions simply unethical and not illegal?

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 14, 2007

We offer nothing more than points to ponder today, points

we concede we cannot fully grasp at this time.

If what has been told to this newspaper by former city employees is true and Mayor Cecil Williamson began receiving benefits without asking for them or ordering someone under her authority to provide them, did she illegally steal city funds through receiving benefits to which she was not entitled?

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Granted, if the mayor was receiving benefits she knew she had been denied &045; and she had been denied them first on Dec. 4, 2004, and then again on June 6, 2005, by the city’s Water Board &045; then her decision not to stop the benefits or at least reimburse the city prior to Sept. 29, 2006, was of questionable ethics. In our opinion, her actions were unethical and unbecoming of an elected official.

That said, we consider these points in asking the question of legal versus illegal:

-The city clerk at the time Williamson was elected mayor said last week that she gave the mayor insurance enrollment forms as a matter of getting a new city employee set up on the municipal payroll.

-The payroll clerk who filed the insurance enrollment forms said she did so at the behest of the city clerk, not the mayor.

-The city council approved each month the city’s payroll expenditures, which would have included the mayor’s insurance premiums. (Granted, the city council did not see an itemization of the payroll, just a lump sum. Still, we are looking at the letter of the law, and the law says the city council approves city expenditures.)

So we ask again, in light of the above, did the mayor steal the benefits or did she simply act in an unethical manner in continuing to take them.

We view this as a question of ethics. We can see the argument that the mayor initially did nothing illegal &045; either of her own acts or by coercing others into acting in a way that provided her with something to which she was not entitled. We’re just not sure if we buy that argument.

Now, consider this:

Somewhere in May or June of 2005 the payroll clerk who filed the enrollment forms and then wrote a memo to the Water Board seeking reimbursement for the mayor’s health benefits in the amount of $7,464 allegedly met with the mayor to inform Williamson that the Water Board said she and not they had to reimburse the city. The clerk said that during this meeting the mayor instructed her to continue paying the premiums because of ongoing negotiations with the Water Board.

If this is fact, did the mayor use her position to coerce someone under her authority to misappropriate funds for her sole benefit?

Of course, proving to a jury that this meeting took place will be up to the district attorney, and it could come down to a &8220;she-said, she-said&8221; situation. Who does the jury believe in that case? Perhaps the more ethical of the two, but how do you decide that?

We don’t have the answers, but we think the questions are valid ones, ones that need to be asked. Ultimately, we feel a jury will be asked to answer these and many others if this saga ever goes to trial.

In the end, we go back to the fact that it appears the mayor acted in an unethical manner. As an elected official, she is charged with overseeing public funds. Illegal or not, we have a hard time accepting the ethics of her actions. Even if a jury finds her not guilty, she will still have to answer to the voters if she seeks re-election.