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Morrow to establish formal code of ethics

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Morrow City Council had its first reading of an ordinance this week that, if adopted, would establish a formal Code of Ethics for elected and non-elected city officials. The proposed ordinance calls for the establishment of a Board of Ethics to hear individual violations, and those found guilty of violating the rules could face censure, fines, or removal from office.

The proposed Code of Ethics was presented to the mayor and council during the city's regular business meeting on Tuesday. On Aug. 10, the city council will have a second reading and vote on the proposed ordinance.

Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady said the ethics code is part of the city's efforts to uphold it's title as a "Certified City of Ethics" with the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA). He said that while the city already has ethical standards in place, the proposed code would strengthen the city's ethics rules by establishing "consequences for unethical behavior."

"Several months ago, we re-certified with the GMA as a Certified City of Ethics," Eady said. "When we did that, the GMA advised us to look at their new ethics ordinance and adopt it. They are calling on all cities to strengthen their code of ethics. We looked at it and fit it to Morrow. City officials should hold themselves to a higher standard than th e public they represent. This gives the ethics ordinance some teeth, if you will"

According to the language of the ordinance, its purposes are to "encourage high ethical standards in official conduct by city officials," "establish guidelines for ethical standards of conduct," "require disclosure by such officials of private financial or other interests in matters coming before the city," and "to serve as a basis for disciplining those who refuse to abide by it's terms."

If approved, the ordinance would apply to the mayor, all members of the city council, and members of any appointed authorities or boards, including the Morrow Planning and Zoning Board, the Morrow Downtown Development Authority, the Morrow Urban Redevelopment Agency, and the Morrow Housing Authority.

The ordinance sets terms and limits for financial interests and gifts and includes 23 different prohibited actions, including using one's office or position "to secure special privileges or exemptions," acting as "an agent or attorney for another in any matter before the City Council or other City body," using one's position to "threaten, intimidate or humiliate the public or City workforce," and ordering "any goods and services for the City without prior official authorization."

Eady said that according to the ordinance, all ethical complaints would be filed with the city clerk and that a Board of Ethics would be established on an incident-to-incident basis to hear matters deemed worthy of an ethics hearing. He said 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 the ordinance, 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.

The proposed ordinance comes four months after a conflict between the city's mayor, Jim Millirons, and Councilman John Lampl became public during the comments portion of the April 26 business meeting.

Toward the close of the meeting, Lampl accused Millirons of using the office of mayor for personal gain, in relation to a Aug. 23, 2006 property sale, in which Millirons' private real estate firm, Morrow Realty, Inc., made a $200,000 commission from Federated Retail Holdings, Inc., on the city's purchase of property at Southlake Mall, which now houses the Morrow Center.

The mayor's commission was disclosed to the city council prior to the transaction, according to city records.

Eady said recent verbal exchanges between the mayor and Lampl are unrelated to Tuesday's ethics code proposal.

"We have to re-certify our city as a City of Ethics every four years," Eady said. "It really doesn't have anything to do with what has gone back and forth in the council chambers lately. It is just a matter of time. It [the ethics code] just makes sure that our officials serve the public, and not themselves."