Ed Williams, Open Meetings Activist, Runs for State House
(APN) ATLANTA — DeKalb County activist Ed Williams–who has used the court system to fight for open government and to hold elected officials accountable–has thrown his hat in the ring for State House of Representatives 90th District, to replace the former incumbent, State Rep. Pam Stephenson (D-Decatur).
Former Rep. Stephenson resigned on September 10, 2020, due to medical issues, after serving for nearly sixteen years, since 2005.
In addition to leading the anti-cityhood movement in DeKalb County, Williams has filed multiple lawsuits pro se, or with no attorney.
His lawsuits have alleged open meetings violations by the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners; and challenged raise in pay by the Commission, MARTA’s extension of its one penny sales tax, and MARTA’s pandemic-related cuts to bus routes, all of which he said were unlawful under the Georgia Constitution and Georgia statute.
In March of last year, March 13, 2020, Williams won a major appeal at the Supreme Court of Georgia, in his case against DeKalb County.
In that case, law students at the University of Georgia, Athens, assisted Mr. Williams. “Thomas V. Burch, Director of the Appellate Litigation Clinic of the University of Georgia School of Law, and his students John Lex Kenerly andAddison Smith, represented Williams on appeal pro bono. This Court thanks them for their service,” the Supreme Court of Georgia wrote.
In that case, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a forty page ruling, including rulings on at least two important issues.
First, in Williams v. DeKalb, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that any person can seek civil penalties against any person working on behalf of an agency for violating the Georgia Open Meetings Act; that the penalties are to be sought against the official or agent in their personal capacity; and that the civil penalty is payable to the plaintiff.
Williams is seeking civil penalties against every member of the Board of Commissioners of Dekalb County who served at the time of vote.
Second, in Williams v. DeKalb, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that no special standing is needed to challenge an agency’s failure to perform a mandatory, non-discretionary duty.
Williams has been endorsed by State Rep. Viola Davis (D-Stone Mountain), DeKalb County Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson (Super-District 7), and DeKalb County activist John Evans.
“My interest in legal matters or court matters started in 2018,” Williams told Atlanta Progressive News.
“Actually in 2017. My first matter was an open records complaint against the City of Stonecrest in 2017.
“The City was formed in 2016. They hired city employees, but they used contractors. I wanted to know how much they were paying. They said because the employees were contractors, they didn’t have to release the information,” Williams said.
“It started in August 2017. By December 2017, the Attorney General sent them a letter saying they had to disclose the information, whether they were contractors or not,” Williams said.
“In 2018, DeKalb County Government passed an ordinance to increase their salaries. As I started researching that, the Constitution says the General Assembly is the one who sets the commissioners’ salaries,” Williams said.
“Even though there’s a statute that the General Assembly passed, it’s unconstitutional. So whoever wrote that statute misinterpreted the constitution because anything that’s specifically granted to the General Assembly cannot be delegated,” he said.
“I’m not against the salary increase, they just don’t have the authority. I’m an authority person,” he said.
“I don’t think some of them deserve it. Nowhere in my complaint do I talk about the amount of money,” he said.
“The case against MARTA with regards to their fifty year sales tax that’s supposed to be ending in August 2021, the referendum in 1971 was it only for fifty years. They’ve already extended the sales tax to 2057. They never had a referendum,” he said.
“You cannot have a local sales tax without a referendum,” he said.
“Those cases give me a foundation as to transportation issues, funding, things that governments can and cannot do, their limits and authorities – that would make me a good candidate,” he said.
“Because one of the main purposes of the General Assembly is to write laws,” he said.
“It will give me a good foundation to hit the ground running, and propose something that’s constitutional that will work within the rules and regulations of the laws,” he said.
“Right now we have a lot of lawmakers in office that don’t know the Constitution or the laws that’s on the books,” he said.
“In DeKalb, we passed a new ethics law. I had some participation in helping get that passed. The people in 2015 who wrote the ethics law did not understand how the constitution works,” he said.
“I’ve been involved in the cityhood issue in DeKalb. They were creating a number of cities in DeKalb and I was on the opposition of that. I was leading the effort in South DeKalb in opposing it,” he said.
“I was an advocate for the County and saying that if the county is not doing their job, then we need to make sure they are doing what they needed to do,” he said.
“They wanted to create the second largest city in the state called Greenhaven,” he said.
If elected, one of Williams’s areas of focus will be to strengthen the Georgia Open Meetings Act and Georgia Open Records Act.
“I would definitely make the penalties and fines more appropriate for the violations. Right now the fines are miniscule and really don’t serve any deterrent for the violations. That would definitely be a focus,” he said.
“My focus has always been on giving the citizen more rights. So any way I can change the open meetings law or open records law, it’s always going to be focused on giving citizens more rights on transparency and holding the govt accountable and limiting the government authority,” he said.
“If I’m the first person to even get the fines and penalties since 2012 [when the penalties were adopted by the Legislature], that’s eight years ago, is it that difficult to even get those kinds of things though?”
Williams is an educator and university professor. He said he does not want to state where he currently teaches because of the current political climate.
However, according to a biographical description online, he formerly taught at Morehouse College.
Williams previously ran in 2018 for DeKalb County Commission Super-District 7.
There are a total of seven candidates who qualified for the seat, including Diandra Hines, Angela Moore, Valerie Murphy, Greg Shealey, Joel Thibodeaux, and former DeKalb County Commissioner Stan Watson (Super-District 7).
As previously reported by APN, Angela Moore created a fictitious campaign manager to avoid paying a campaign debt.
Then, Moore threatened to sue APN, issuing a demand letter from a fictitious attorney.
Moore contacted APN around New Years Eve of 2020 to apologize, adding she could not remember what had transpired.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2021)