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Lovejoy mayor gets county job back

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

Joe Murphy was inappropriately fired from his job as county building inspector, the civil service board has ruled.

Murphy, who is also the mayor of Lovejoy and the owner of an electrical company, was fired from his position as deputy chief director of the county's Community Development Department in November. He was accused of inspecting work, as a county official, which he had done as a private contractor.

Murphy appealed the firing, and the Clayton County Civil Service Board heard his case on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The county's attorney, Pamela Everett, argued that Murphy knew the rules about conflict of interest, but repeatedly and blatantly ignored them. Murphy had been warned about inspecting his own work in 2003, and in 2007, had been caught doing the same thing again.

"Just because that's the way its always been done doesn't make it right," Everett said. "Just because Mr. Murphy's done it that way for years and years and years, that doesn't make it right."

Murphy's attorney, Steve Frey, said the evidence against the man was all put together after the decision to fire him had already been made. Frey said the evidence was inconclusive, unless you just assume Murphy is engaged in ongoing fraud.

"Evidence of intent to deceive, fabricate or prevaricate just isn't there," Frey said. "It doesn't exist."

The two attorney's disputed the meaning of the evidence, including the conclusions that should be drawn from missing files at the Community Services Department. Everett said files weren't there, on some inspection jobs done by Murphy, because he didn't do the inspection or because he got rid of the files to cover up cases where there was a conflict of interest.

Frey said the missing files were an honest mistake in a department that works at a frantic pace, or could have gone missing to make it look like Murphy hadn't done his job, because County Commission Chairman Eldin Bell wanted Murphy fired.

"The incompleteness of the file is not evidence," Frey said. "What are we here to do today? Are we here to keep a lid on this, this garbage, or are we here to find the truth?"

Murphy admitted to three cases of inspecting work he did. According to Murphy, they were inspections that didn't actually need electrical work, where something just had to be plugged in and signed off on.

Frey said Murphy should have been suspended for those cases, the county commissioners should have called him into the office and called him "a stupid slab-head" and told him to "knock it off."

The hearing was attended by two former county commissioners, Charlie Griswell and Frank Bailey, who sat with Murphy and his family through the hearing. During the closing arguments, the two former commissioners chewed on unlit cigars and muttered at the county attorney.

The hearing was also attended by Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas and Assistant Chief Jeffery Hood, who have fought with Murphy and the City of Lovejoy over inspections and building code standards.

The civil service board deliberated for a little more than two hours on Wednesday afternoon, before voting to reinstate Murphy as a county employee with his previous civil service pay rate and seniority.

The board voted 4-1, with J. Mark Trimble, once a top official at the fire department, voting against Murphy's appeal.

The board ruled that Murphy be given back pay, for the seven months he didn't work. Frey said Murphy will go back to work on Thursday.

The board recommended he be given work that has nothing to do with inspections.