From staff reports

The Atlanta Board of Ethics has opened an investigation into at-large City Councilman H. Lamar Willis’ foundation, checking into whether he violated the city’s ethics code and used the city’s web site, equipment and city employees for private advantage.

A complaint had been filed by George Anderson, head of a Rome-based watchdog group called the Ethics in Government Group.

Among the potential violations Anderson cited was conflict of interest for accepting donations to his H. Lamar Willis Foundation from companies that had business before council committees.

Willis serves on the city’s Transportation Committee, which oversees Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, and many donors to his foundation were businesses operating at the airport.

The city’s ethics officer also is investigating whether Willis used city property and staff to run his foundation and award college scholarships to Atlanta high school students.

The investigation stems from reports that the Willis Foundation has claimed for years to be a federally approved nonprofit. The Internal Revenue Service has never given the organization that designation.

Willis, who is an attorney, also has never registered his foundation as a charity with the state as required by law.

In another action, the city’s ethics officer reported she has not found any evidence that Mayor Shirley Franklin violated the city’s ethics code in connection with contracts her former husband had at Atlanta’s airport and her alleged use of a city credit card.

It was recommended the city’s Board of Ethics dismiss the charges, which also were filed by Anderson. The board is to vote on the ethics officer’s recommendations on Aug. 23.