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Morrow council votes to investigate Lampl

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Morrow City Council has moved to investigate one of its own members to determine if that member created a hostile work environment for the city's finance director.

The city council voted 3-0 on Tuesday to investigate Councilman John Lampl based on a formal grievance, filed on June 17, by Morrow Finance Director Dan Defnall. Lampl, the subject of the investigation, abstained from the vote, which was motioned by Mayor Jim Millirons, seconded by Councilman Mason Barfield, and affirmed by three out of the four council members.

According to the language of the resolution, it was created because a "grievance against a sitting elected official falls outside the ability of the City Grievance Policy to address," and "the City currently possesses no procedure for handling grievances involving elected officials."

The council voted to assign the Atlanta-based law firm of Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP, to complete a factual investigation and report its findings to the mayor and council within 30 days.

Upon receipt of the factual findings, the matter will be placed on the agenda of the next available council meeting to be considered by the council, according to the resolution.

City officials did not go into the details of Defnall's grievance on Tuesday, nor was a copy of Defnall's grievance provided with the resolution to investigate. A copy of Defnall's grievance could not be obtained on Tuesday night.

City Attorney Laurel Henderson said Tuesday that Defnall's "basic claim is a hostile work environment," but declined to go into any further detail until the completion of the investigation.

Lampl and Defnall, who were both present at Tuesday's meeting, declined to comment on the pending investigation.

According to the language of the resolution, Defnall's grievance was also submitted to the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA), which is instituting its own investigation. The agency is also using the law firm of Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP, to conduct its investigation, according to city officials.

In another matter, the board voted 3-1 (Lampl opposed) to approve a new ethics ordinance that would apply to city employees, members of appointed boards, and elected officials. The ordinance was introduced to the council on July 27, but failed to pass due to the absence of Councilman Virlyn Slaton -- who was present on Tuesday to provide the third council vote necessary to pass the agenda item.

Lampl argued that the language of the ethics ordinance is too broad. "It's not popular to vote against an ethics ordinance, even if it's poorly written," he said. "We're after compliance, not anything else. It's so broadly written that it's not going to be able to help out our citizens, if we follow it to the letter."

According to the ordinance, all ethical complaints will be filed with the city clerk and a Board of Ethics will be established on an incident-by-incident basis to hear matters deemed worthy of an ethics hearing. The board would consist of three residents of the city, one appointed by the mayor, one appointed by the city council, and one appointed by the mayor and approved by the majority of the city council.

According to city officials, those deemed by the Board of Ethics to be in violation of the ethics code are liable to face any of several penalties, including: Censure; written or oral reprimand; a fine greater than $100, but less than $1,000; a request for resignation; removal from city boards, commissions, authorities and agencies; and removal from elected office.