Contentious Watchdog Head Announces Complaints Against Witts
Snellville Councilman Tom Witts, supporters, walked out of a Friday press conference before it was finished.
The executive director of a Georgia watchdog group announced his intentions to file ethics complaints against two Snellville officials Friday afternoon.
But less than 10 minutes into a press conference in a front hallway at City Hall, Ethics in Government Group head George Anderson lost most of the audience. A group of more than a dozen supporters of Councilman Tom Witts, and Witts himself, walked out the front door, saying there are no merits to Anderson’s claims.
After they left, only a couple of media people and three or four others remained as Anderson further claimed he had evidence Witts and Snellville's Chief Municipal Court Judge Mark Layng violated a handful of ethics codes.
Anderson says he is asking for investigations into alleged violations, mostly centered around Witts owing back state taxes, an alleged conflict of interest due to his association with Layng, and disclosure of campaign contributions.
Anderson says he has already filed complaints with the Governor's Office and the City of Snellville, and plans to file complaints with the Campaign Finance Commission and Judicial Qualifications Committee.
Among his complaints, Anderson alleges that Witts, also Snellville's mayor pro tem, violated his oath of office in 2009 by witholding information that he owed $28,000 in back state taxes.
“You owe $28,000 and in your oath of office, it states that you are not the holder of any unaccountable funds due to the state,” Anderson said. “You knew at the time when you took that oath of office that it was a falsehood.”
Witts explained earlier this week that he does owe the state, but is paying it back, including penalties and interest. He said he owes for taking a disbursement of 401K funds in 2007 after his wife was laid off. He said the money "I borrowed from myself" helped prevent him from laying off employees and kept his business (Georgia Property Restoration) afloat.
"[Despite Anderson's charges] I'd still make that decision. I'd still do it. I'd still take care of the families [of his employees]. I'd still take care of my family," said Witts, who said he has disclosed his debt in an open city council meeting. "I have nothing to hide."
Anderson believes Layng, who is Witts' attorney and co-owns the Tucker building that houses Witts' business, was unethical for swearing Witts into office. It was a conflict of interest due to the relationship, he charges. Layng was not present Friday.
Friday's press conference was contentious and included some heated exchanges between Anderson and many in the crowd who are Witts supporters, which included State Rep. Brett Harrell and Councilman Dave Emanuel. Anderson took shots at the Governor and the State Legislature as a whole, and called a woman at the press conference who referred to herself as a community activist a "community pest."
As the group left, comments like “This is nonsense,” “It’s a sideshow” and “I’ve got to get back to work,” echoed in the hallway.
"Have a good day," Anderson said to the group. "Oh, most of you are Councilman Witts' folks? Oh, howdy, doody."
Witts said he had not seen Anderson’s complaints — more than 100 pages worth — before Friday and he did not leave with copies of them.
He planned to be at the press conference, but added that he didn’t ask anybody to also attend.
“How blessed I am to have so many people come out for me,” Witts said outside the building. “These are people who know me and know that I am ethical.”