Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
During a special hearing, Wednesday, to determine if Morrow City Councilman John Lampl should be removed from office for allegedly harassing the city's finance director, city officials detailed numerous instances in which Lampl allegedly disrespected, not only the finance director, but also members of the Downtown Development Authority, the city council, and other city employees and officials.
Morrow Finance Director Dan Defnall filed a complaint against Lampl last June, and it resulted in an investigation that determined there was enough truth in Defnall's accusations to warrant further action.
Testimony from several city employees, and Morrow Mayor Jim Millirons, showed an alleged pattern of insults, contempt and threats, going back several years, aimed at Defnall, the mayor, other members of the Morrow City Council and members of the Morrow Downtown Development Authority Board.
The city councilman allegedly threatened to throw Millirons out of Morrow City Hall in 2009, and (in 2010) told Defnall -- to the finance director's face -- that he was "full of [expletive]," and called him a "dumbass" behind his back on another occasion, city officials testified.
"He [Lampl] said, 'I am out to embarrass Dan,'" said City Manager Jeff Eady, during his testimony. "He said he could out-debate Dan, that Dan didn't have the fortitude to stay with him, and that he would make Dan cry."
The removal hearing is expected to continue this morning, at 10 a.m., at Morrow City Hall. Members of the three-person hearing panel are expected to finish questioning Eady this morning. Attorneys prosecuting the case said the city manager will likely be the last witness they have giving testimony during the hearing.
It is not clear if any case will be made in Lampl's defense, since Lampl, himself, did not attend the hearing Wednesday, and did not have a representative present to question witnesses.
On Tuesday, Morrow City Attorney Laurel Henderson, who served as the legal counsel for the hearing panel, said Lampl was scheduled to serve as his own attorney during the hearing, but he did not show up for the proceeding.
Lampl said he did not attend, because he felt the city was not giving him a chance to defend himself, even going so far as to say the city would not allow him to have a defense attorney, after he asked the city to provide one. He also said the city asked him to pay too much for an open records request.
Defnall testified that he and Lampl began with a good working relationship when Defnall was hired by Lampl in September 2004. He said the relationship began to sour, however, after he began raising concerns about city finances, particularly those tied to the Olde Towne Morrow project, which Lampl was overseeing.
Defnall said that no budgets existed for the creation of Olde Towne, and that it began to eat away at the city's once "deep" cash reserves. "I became privy enough to the cash flow that we had to implement a daily bank reconciliation process for me to even feel comfortable about writing checks, [so] that I wasn't going to bounce a check," he said.
Defnall said things turned "ugly" once Lampl became the city's economic development and planning director in July 2009, and the two of them had a meeting with Eady about construction costs for Olde Towne. During the meeting, Defnall and Eady testified, they questioned Lampl's estimates of how much more money it would cost to finish construction of the development.
"He kind of got very arrogant, and verbally attacked me in the meeting, and told Jeff that I didn't know what I was doing, and that I better get out of his way; it just kind of turned pretty nasty," Defnall said.
Defnall also testified that Lampl told the Morrow Downtown Development Authority's (DDA) board, in March 2010, that Defnall was "incompetent," and "incapable" of stepping in as the temporary leader of the authority. Lampl has admitted that he did make those comments to the DDA board.
At another DDA meeting, Defnall said, Lampl approached him and called him a "piece of [expletive]." Defnall also said that Lampl, as a city councilman, began making snide comments about the finance director's reports to the council, during public meetings. "He would say things like, 'If we can even trust his numbers,'" Defnall said. The finance director said the stress began to get to him after an extended period of hearing these comments, and after hearing reports from other city employees that Lampl was telling people that he planned to become mayor, and fire Defnall and Eady.
At one point during the hearing, Millirons testified that Lampl, while still Morrow's city manager, ran afoul of the mayor when he threatened Millirons. Lampl was allegedly frustrated that city employees were complaining to Millirons about how Lampl treated them, Millirons said, and because the mayor began pressuring the city manager to answer questions about Olde Towne Morrow. "He [Lampl] said, 'I'm ready to throw you out of my building [city hall],' and he wasn't joking," said Millirons, who added that Lampl also claimed to have information on a CD that would send the mayor "to jail." The mayor said he has never been contacted by any law enforcement agency about any misconduct that Lampl may have alleged.
Millirons said he sought Lampl's removal from the city manager position after that exchange, but the council wanted to move him into an economic development and planning position instead, because "he's got a head full of information about the project [Olde Towne Morrow] that would be hard to replace."
Lampl later left the economic development position when he was elected to the city council in March 2010. On Wednesday, Lampl admitted that he did threaten to throw the mayor out of city hall. When he was asked why, he would not explain his actions.
Later in the hearing, the city's current economic development and planning director, Michael McLaughlin, testified that Lampl once made comments to him that seemingly showed contempt for the Morrow DDA Board. "He said none of them knew what they were doing, and that he personally placed them on the board, so he could manipulate them to do what he wanted them to do," McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin said that, in another exchange with Lampl, the city councilman allegedly went on a 45-minute rant about Defnall. "He said 'I just wanted to let you know Dan Defnall is a dumbass,'" McLaughlin said. "All I can really say is that it was an oration ... It was a lot of rambling about Dan."
Lampl said he has never made any remarks about Defnall that could be construed as derogatory, except for his comments about Defnall's abilities to lead the Morrow Downtown Development Authority on a temporary basis.
The hearing did bring to light that two new complaints have been filed against Lampl in recent months. McLaughlin and Eady testified that they had to file complaints after Lampl began contacting city employees, while he was serving on the city council. Eady said Lampl was even giving orders to some city employees.
"He was undermining my ability to manage effectively," Eady said.