Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
After six-and-a-half hours of arguments and witness testimony -- over two days -- and more than three hours of deliberations Thursday, a special panel trying to determine if Morrow City Councilman John Lampl should be removed from office has decided to review transcripts and "legal issues" before making a ruling.
Morrow City Attorney Laurel Henderson, who served as the hearing panel's legal advisor, came out of the deliberations, Thursday afternoon, to tell the nearly 20 people waiting for a decision in the city council meeting room at City Hall that she had news. "I have an announcement to make, and the announcement is there will be no announcement today," she said.
Henderson said the hearing panel is expected to reach a decision, and deliver it, in the form of an order, to city officials before the next Morrow City Council meeting, on May 10. Once the decision is delivered, she said, the city council will have to vote to ratify, or reject, it.
She said the panel, which is made up of a retired city manager from Fayette County, and city attorneys from two central Georgia towns, is dealing with some "evidentiary matters" and unspecified legal issues that need to be evaluated more thoroughly before a final decision can be reached.
"They have made a number of decisions, but they need to see a transcript, that we need to get right away, so they can finalize some of those legal issues." The panel had originally expected to finish its deliberations on Thursday, but the legal issues got in the way, she added.
"I knew we shouldn't have put so many attorneys on the panel," joked Mayor Jim Millirons, upon hearing Henderson's announcement.
Henderson said that, all kidding aside, the city intentionally chose attorneys to sit on the panel, in case legal issues needed to be addressed during deliberations.
If the panel orders Lampl's removal, and the city council ratifies that order, then Lampl will be able to appeal the decision in Clayton County Superior Court, she said.
The panel began deliberating on whether Lampl should be removed from office for alleged mistreatment of city employees, at 11 a.m., on Thursday. The proceedings have focused on Lampl's treatment of city employees, most notably Finance Director Dan Defnall, when Lampl was city manager (from 1998, to 2009), economic development and planning director (from 2009, to early 2010), and a city councilman (since March 2010).
Witnesses, including Defnall, testified on Wednesday that Lampl allegedly made disparaging remarks about the finance director, and claimed he could make him "cry."
Lampl, in a telephone interview on Wednesday, denied making any comments about Defnall that could be construed as derogatory, except for one occasion when he told the Morrow Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board that the finance director was "incapable" of leading the group.
Witness testimony also illustrated an alleged pattern of disrespect for Millirons, the DDA board, and other city council members -- sometimes to their faces, and other times behind their backs. Current city manager, Jeff Eady, testified that Lampl once told him that other city council members "didn't understand" monthly financial reports.
During nearly an hour of closing arguments, on Thursday, prosecuting attorney Read Gignilliat told panel members that Lampl, as city manager, and later as economic development and planning director, and eventually city councilman, repeatedly engaged in acts of alleged retaliation against other people in city government.
"Mr. Lampl had, what I described as ... essentially a policy or practice of attempting to control and manipulate others, not just his subordinates, but even elected officials," while he was city manager, said Gignilliat, during his closing arguments.
"But also, as a city councilman," Lampl allegedly attempted "to control and manipulate others, through acts of intimidation, or threats -- sometimes direct, sometimes more subtle, as well as through acts of punishment and retaliation," the attorney added.
Lampl did not attend either day of the proceedings. On Wednesday, he said 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. No one represented Lampl during the proceedings.
Lampl also claimed the city asked him to pay too much for an open records request, but Eady testified that the city councilman requested "basically every document the city created over a two-year period" and that the price was much lower than Lampl claimed.