Ethics Office Dismisses Willis FogFuels Case

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Ethics Office of the City of Atlanta has dismissed a complaint filed by the News Editor of the Atlanta Progressive News–the present writer–against Councilman Lamar Willis (Post 3-at-large).

The present writer filed the complaint in September 2012 after APN published an email from Paul Marshall, CEO of FogFuels–a company that since then has entered into negotiations with the City of Atlanta for a sole source contract–introducing Willis as a new team member, as a new appointment “on the Government side,” and promising that a bio of Willis would be available soon.

APN was concerned about the apparent conflict of interest of a financial nature, seeing as how Willis introduced legislation related to the FogFuels negotiations, voted for the legislation, and did not abstain from voting for the legislation.

Willis denied any knowledge of the email or of any expectation of remuneration from FogFuels, first in a voice message left for APN at 1:30 in the morning; and later, in response to the Ethics Office.

A copy of the investigative report obtained by APN reveals, however, that in addition to the controversial email, that, according to interviews with former FogFuels employees, Marshall also spoke about Mr. Willis as a new team member for FogFuels in a meeting, and those employees came away from that meeting with the understanding that Willis would actually being working for FogFuels in a consultant or liaison position, as a State Senator had done previously.

The investigation also revealed State Sen. Judson Hill, a Republican, as the State Senator who has admittedly held a liaison position with FogFuels.

The investigative report, completed October 11, 2012, but not provided to APN until weeks later, included notes from several interviews, including one with Brendan Walsh, a former Vice President at FogFuels.

“Mr. Walsh was one of the employees who received the email that was referenced in the Ethics Complaint which indicated that Mr. Willis was ‘coming on board.’  According to Mr. Walsh, Mr. Marshall made this announcement verbally in a meeting and advised the staff that he would be having a lunch meeting with Mr. Willis,” the report states.

“Mr. Walsh says that he was not a participant in the meeting between Mr. Willis and Mr. Marshall and that he interpreted Mr. Marshall’s statement, both verbally and in writing, to mean that Mr. Willis was going to become a part of the Company in a role similar to that which the former State Senator had.  He did not have specific knowledge of an agreement, verbally or written, between Mr. Willis and FOGFuels,” the report states.

Walsh also told the Ethics Office he had been “threatened with litigation by an attorney for FOGFuels.”

The report also reveals that Nigel Lakey, a former Acting CEO of FogFuels, currently has two lawsuits against the company.

Lakey told the Ethics Office that he was the one who arranged State Sen. Hill’s position with FogFuels.

“Senator Hill’s role was to be a government liaison between FOGFuels and other governmental entities, with the exception of the state.  It was his [Lakey’s] opinion that the relationship was appropriate in that Senator Hill had a broad-reaching network, both with local governments in the state of Georgia and through his affiliation with the Republican Party.  Further, Senator Hill continued to work for FOGFuels for a month or two after Mr. Lakey left in March of 2012.  He stated that Senator Hill received either a commission or retainer, but he could not specifically remember which,” the report states.

The original version of the report, obtained by APN upon a request made to the Ethics Office on November 02, 2012, did include notes of an interview with Sen. Hill; however, APN knew the Ethics Office had in fact interviewed Sen. Hill due to a letter received earlier from the Ethics Office.

After APN notified Nina Hickson, the City’s Ethics Officer, of the apparent omission, Hickson provided APN with the interview notes pertaining to Sen. Hill, and told APN that the report would be amended.  “The lack of notes on this is an error,” Hickson said.

“Sen. Hill indicated that he had been affiliated with FOGFUELs [sic] as a Government Affairs contract.  He could not recall the exact terms of payment.  However, his work involved making contacts with local government officials on behalf of FOGFuels.  Because of his position as a state Senator he did not represent FOGFuels on before state agencies,” the report supplement states.

“While Sen. Hill worked on behalf of FOGFuels in connection with its efforts to do work in Cobb County and other local governments, he said he was never asked to be involved in efforts involving the City of Atlanta because Paul Marshall indicated that he already had in-roads into the City,” other than Mr. Willis, the report supplement states.

“Sen. Hill indicated that he departed FOG Fuels because he ‘did not like the way they were doing
business, the technology was flawed and the company did not have any money,’” the report supplement states.

APN promised the source of the email complete confidentiality, and, as always, has maintained that confidentiality, including in an interview with Jabu Sengova, the investigator for the Ethics Office.

APN did provide the Ethics Office with written allegations that APN received concerning two other City employees related to FogFuels, and with copies of letters that the confidential source also sent to various Council Members.

Sengova told APN that the City of Atlanta has no code section affirmatively requiring Council Members to report any perceived possible wrongdoing, as other cities have in place.

With respect to the complaint against Mr. Willis, the report concluded, “After reviewing the documents provided by the Complainant as well as a review of the interviews conducted in conjunction with this investigation, there is no evidence which substantiates the allegation that Mr. Willis took any actions in violation of the Code of Ethics.  There is no proof of an employment or consulting relationship between Mr. Willis and FOGFuels.”

“The allegation appears to be based on how one interprets the language in an email authored by Paul Marshall.  Mr. Marshall has indicated that he believed that as the Government Liaison for FOGFuels, Mr. Willis was going to consider sponsoring the legislation for the sole source contract to build the biodiesel plant because he believed that there were potential benefits to the City of Atlanta.  Further, Mr. Willis has denied any relationship with Mr. Marshall or FOGFuels.

Mr. Willis also stated that the date of the email was the day after he had his initial meeting with Mr. Marshall and there was no agreement reached between himself and Mr. Marshall,” the report states.

(END/2012)

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