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Morrow City Council appoints Lampl hearing panel

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The Morrow City Council has chosen two Central Georgia city attorneys, and a retired city manager from Fayette County, to preside over the removal hearing for City Councilman John Lampl, according to a high-ranking official in Morrow's government.

Morrow City Manager Jeff Eady said the council voted 3-0, on Tuesday night, to appoint the hearing panel. Lampl abstained from the vote. The panel, according to a copy of the resolution passed by the city council, will consist of a retired City Manager for Peachtree City, Bernard McMullen; Warner Robbins City Attorney Jim Elliot, and Jeff Todd, a city attorney for several cities, including LaGrange, Gay, and Warm Springs.

Lampl is accused of creating a "hostile work environment" for Morrow's Finance Director, Dan Defnall, according to a November 2010 report from an investigation into Lampl's treatment of Defnall.

The hearing will be held April 27, and April 28, Eady said. "It's a [court-style] hearing. There will be a court reporter, and everything."

The hearing will prove to be the first of its kind, under an ordinance the Morrow City Council approved in December, to create a process for removing council members. It was originally scheduled for late February, but it was postponed after Lampl requested an extension.

"We don't know how long it [the hearing] will take," he said. "We could get through all of the witnesses in one day, or it could take a day and a half." He added the hearing will focus solely on Lampl's treatment of Defnall.

Eady also said attorneys from the law firm of Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP, which conducted the investigation into Lampl's treatment of Defnall, will handle the prosecution of the embattled council member. In December, Morrow City Attorney Laurel Henderson said she would not be able to prosecute the case, because she will be serving as the hearing panel's legal counsel. Henderson could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Lampl accused city officials of trying to "hinder" his defense, by charging him high fees to obtain "18, to 24 months" of e-mails for city employees, that he planned to use during the hearing.

In November, Reed Gignilliat, an attorney from Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, LLP, told the city council that Lampl tried to undermine Defnall's position after he reported to city leaders, Lampl's alleged "poor financial leadership," as Morrow's former city manager and economic development director.

Gignilliat told the city council at the time that "evidence" supported Lampl's "removal from office under the Morrow City Charter."

Lampl won office in a special election, in March 2010.

"On the basis of the evidence disclosed and reviewed, over the course of our investigation, we find that Lampl has engaged in conduct toward Defnall, creating a hostile work environment, adversely affecting the terms and conditions of his employment with the city," the report states.

"We further find that Lampl's conduct toward Defnall is motivated, at least in part, by retaliation for Defnall's disclosure of certain financial information to the mayor and city council, reflecting poorly on Lampl's tenure as city manager and economic development director," according to the report.