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Bitter conflict surfaces on Morrow City Council

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

A deep-seated rift has appeared between leaders in the City of Morrow who had been known as longtime allies.

Councilman John Lampl and Mayor Jim Millirons have recently been at odds with each another over a series of city actions, some dating as far back as 2006, when Lampl served as city manager.

During a recent public meeting, Lampl accused Millirons of using his position as mayor for financial gain. Millirons has, in turn, accused Lampl of exacting revenge after being asked to step down as city manager, and attempting to bolster a possible 2012 run for mayor.

A rancorous, behind-the-scenes feud became public during the city's April 26 meeting when Lampl publicly discussed Millirons' receiving a $200,000 commission from the city's August 2006 purchase of the old Macy's property at Southlake Mall, which currently houses the Morrow Center.

According to a closing statement provided by the city, Millirons' realty company, Morrow Realty, Inc., listed the property for Federated Retail Holdings, Inc., on July 11, 2006. On Aug. 23, 2006, the City of Morrow purchased the building for $1.7 million and Morrow Realty received an $85,000 broker's commission and another $115,000 for closing the deal prior to Sept. 1, 2006.

During the April 26 meeting, Millirons said he had listed the property several years earlier, before the property was re-listed for Federated Retail Holdings. He said full disclosure was made to the city before the sale and, at the time of the sale, he had offered to resign, if the council believed he was acting improperly.

"I had listed that property for approximately three to four years, had showings many times, and had convinced them to drop their price from $2.3 million to $1.7 million," Millirons said. "At that time, the city showed an interest in buying it. I still had a lease-and-commission agreement with Federated and advised the council, and I said, 'I am not writing a check for $200,000 to the city. If you prefer, I will resign' ... that was put on the board and nothing was said about it," Millirons continued. "No one asked me to resign. I made the $200,000 legitimately, I put it in the bank legitimately, and owe no apologies."

According to city documents, on June 21, 2006, Lampl, who served as city manager at the time, was given permission to execute the purchase of the Macy's property. He said he believed the mayor had "insider information" regarding the purchase, but did not speak out because he didn't want to overstep his boss.

"That wasn't my decision ... that's your boss and that was his conscience," Lampl said. "The purchase itself was probably the best asset that the city ever bought. The unfortunate part is that you are using your influence to make things happen. The city made the right decision for the purchase ... he [Millirons] made the wrong decision to profit for it.

"I've used my real estate license to acquire property for the city lots of times," he continued. "You always have the assumption that when you are working for the city, it is counter-signed by you, and it is put into the city's account. This is the first time he went off the reservation. There is obviously hesitation airing your dirty laundry ... it's not going to stop until it is brought to the forefront."

Prior to Lampl's current term on the City Council, he served on the council from 1991 to 1998, becoming city manager in the latter part of 1998. He served as city manager for 11 years until taking a position as the executive director of the Morrow Downtown Development Authority.

In March of this year, Lampl won a special election to fill the unexpired term of former Councilman Charles Sorrow and came back to the City Council.

Millirons, who has served the city for seven years as a councilman, nine years as a city manager, and 15 years as the mayor, said Lampl was asked by the council to step down as city manager in July of last year. He would not discuss why Lampl was asked to leave the city manager's office, citing "personnel issues," however, he said he believes Lampl's actions at last week's meeting are part of a vendetta stemming from last year.

"He [Lampl] was being asked to step down or take another job," Millirons said. "He had indicated to the council that he was going to resign in April of this year. The council asked me to talk to John and get him to stay on in a different position. John was offered the same salary to be the economic developer.

"He was sitting in the meetings and he was an advocate of [the] selling [of] the Macy's," Millirons continued. "He is acting like something clandestine was done. That is a lie. John was sitting there when I made the declaration [of the commission]. It's revenge for him not being city manager anymore, I'm sure. He's running for mayor in 2012. He thinks I'm running in 2012, and he is trying to attack everything I've ever done."

Millirons would not confirm or deny any personal plans to seek for re-election.

According to Morrow City Clerk Evyonne Browning, Lampl left the position of city manager making $105,150 in annual salary and made the same salary while working on the city's Downtown Development Authority. His salary as a councilperson is $750 a month, or $9,000 a year, she said.

E-mails provided by Browning show that Lampl has made more than one inquiry into financial practices of the mayor in recent weeks.

A March 19 e-mail from Lampl to members of the City Council accuses the mayor of violating the city's ethics policy by using a city cell phone number on a Morrow Realty "for sale" sign. An April 21 interoffice e-mail from Browning to Dan Defnall, the city's finance manager, shows that Lampl made an open records request for proof that Millirons didn't profit from the Macy's purchase.

Lampl said his recent inquires into the mayor are not out of revenge, and that in July of last year, he left the office of city manager on his own accord "solely because of the shenanigans of the mayor." He said that as a city councilman, he is attempting to maintain the good name of the city.

"The risk of leaving it alone is that more people's reputations continue to get tarnished," Lampl said. "When you are an employee, you don't really have that choice, because it's your boss. The city has a great reputation and we want to keep that."

Lampl said he is "seriously considering running for mayor," but only if it is "an open position."

Millirons said his reputation as a city councilman, city manager, and mayor "have been above reproach" for 31 years, and sees Lampl's actions as a personal attack on his character. He said that until recently, the two have had a father-son relationship.

"I treated him as a mentee and a son," Millirons said. "I don't regret that. I regret that he has changed."

Lampl, who said he has worked with Millirons for 20 years, believes it is Millirons who has changed. "He was like my dad," Lampl said. "We've had a 20-year partnership. [A] friend, yes ... current guy ... different person."

Morrow City Councilman Bob Huie would not offer an opinion on the visible divide between Lampl and Millirons. He said the current conflict would not impede city business.

"I've served with Jim almost 15 years, and I think he's been a tremendous asset for the city," Huie said. "I think John has, too. I have no sides to pick with either of them. I think the council has continued to operate for the best interests of the city."

Councilmen Mason Barfield and Virlyn Slaton could not be reached for comment on Monday.