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Morrow City Council seeks to remove Lampl

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Morrow City Councilman John Lampl could lose his post early next year, following a decision by his colleagues to begin the process of removing him from office for alleged mistreatment of city employees.

The council voted 3-0 to remove Lampl, during a meeting on Tuesday. The vote came after a report from independent attorney, Reed Gignilliat, from the law firm of Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP. He was hired by the council in August to investigate Lampl's treatment of city finance director, Dan Defnall.

Gignilliat told city council members the investigation revealed that Lampl committed unspecified acts of "retaliation," "misfeasance," and "malfeasance" in his treatment of Defnall.

The attorney also said the city councilman violated the Georgia Whistleblower Act by harassing Defnall. He said Lampl attempted to undermine Defnall's position as finance director after he reported Lampl's "poor financial leadership" as the city's former city manager, and economic development director, to city leaders.

"The evidence supports a finding that warrants removal from office under the Morrow City Charter," Gignilliat told the city council.

City attorney, Laurel Henderson, said under provisions in the city's charter, the council will now have to vote twice, at two separate meetings, to approve an ordinance that would set up a removal hearing for Lampl. She said the process of approving the ordinance would take all of the month of December to complete.

She said the hearing would be presided over by a panel of "experienced people," who live outside of Morrow, in order to have an impartial decision. During the hearing, city officials, and Lampl, will be able to introduce evidence and cross examine witnesses, she added.

"I expect the entire process should be completed by the end of January," Henderson said. Earlier, she told council members that Lampl can sit with the council, and participate in council votes until the removal process is completed.

In June, Defnall filed a grievance with the city -- against Lampl -- claiming the councilman had created a hostile work environment for the finance director. The grievance also was sent to the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency, which hired Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP, to investigate the matter. The city hired the firm to conduct its own investigation, Gignilliat said.

Gignilliat said the investigation revealed that Lampl had been treating Defnall in a hostile manner going back to when Lampl was Morrow's city manager. "We determined a pattern of misconduct by Mr. Lampl, towards Mr. Defnall, existed," Gignilliat said.

The attorney did not elaborate on any specific actions Lampl took against Defnall, and a copy of the investigation report was not immediately available after the city council meeting on Tuesday.

Gignilliat gave the council two options for dealing with Lampl. One option was to remove him from office, and the other was to take lesser, corrective action against him.

City Councilman Mason Barfield said evidence of a second complaint, filed by another city employee against Lampl -- while the investigation of his treatment of Defnall was taking place -- led the council to decide corrective action would not work.

"We, as elected officials, are ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of the city workforce, and that policy decisions are fairly, and equitably, made," Barfield said. "Morale of the city workforce cannot be maintained, and city business accomplished, in an atmosphere of intimidation, disparaging remarks, and threats made by an elected official."

Lampl sat stoically in the audience during Gignilliat's presentation. He neither admitted, nor denied, any mistreatment of Defnall when he was given the chance to address his fellow council members.

He told the council that he was going to remain "very polite and very calm" about his situation, and at times compared it to watching a Harry Potter film. He did not explain that reference.

Lampl did say, however, that as a city councilman, he had "the right to ask tough questions" of city officials. "There's another side to this," he told the council. He never said what that other side was, however. He only asked his colleagues "for a fair shake."

After the meeting, he was asked twice if he planned to retain an attorney for the removal hearing, and he did not answer the question either time.