Photo by Heather Middleton
In front of an unusually large audience, on Tuesday, the Morrow City Council unanimously voted to ratify a three-member hearing panel's recommendation to remove City Councilman John Lampl from office.
Last week, the council received a recommendation for Lampl's removal from the panel, following a two-day hearing into allegations that he created a "hostile work environment" for the city's finance director, Dan Defnall.
The panel determined that Lampl had violated two sections of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, including a violation of the state's Whistleblower Act, and by exhibiting "oppression or tyrannical partiality in the administration ... of ... office" in his treatment of Defnall. The panel's report was released last week.
Lampl did not attend the council meeting on Tuesday.
"I'm extremely pleased that it's over," said Morrow Mayor Jim Millirons. "We can now get on with the more important business of the city. We've got planning issues that need to be dealt with, and we've got a budget to approve."
City Manager Jeff Eady said Lampl now has 30 days to file an appeal of the council's decision in Clayton County Superior Court. City Attorney Laurel Henderson said whether Lampl gets to keep his seat on the council, while the appeals process takes place, will be up to the judge who hears the case -- if an appeal is filed.
Defnall filed a complaint with Eady, against Lampl, last June, complaining about the way he was being treated by the councilman. During the removal hearing, Defnall testified that Lampl had publicly made disparaging remarks about his leadership abilities during a meeting of the Morrow Downtown Development Authority, and used an aggressive tone of voice toward him in some their interactions as well.
Other city employees testified that Lampl had also made disparaging remarks to them about Defnall during private conversations, even going so far as to say the finance director needed to stay out of the councilman's way.
After the city council meeting on Tuesday, Defnall said he was pleased with the council's decision to remove Lampl from office. "I think this decision was the very best one for the city, long term," he said.
For their part, Millirons and members of the city council said after the meeting that they are ready to move past the Lampl issue. "We're moving forward, and now we can focus on the future, and that's what we're going to do," said City Councilman Mason Barfield. "The only thing that matters now is tomorrow."
Indeed, city leaders are already poised to name a replacement for Lampl on the city council, according to Millirons. The mayor said the council is scheduled to appoint, and swear in, a new city councilmember at its next meeting, on May 24. "We already know who we want to appoint," he said. The mayor kept that person's identity close to his vest, though.
The Lampl issue proved to be a big draw, for both city employees and Morrow residents. Approximately 50 people attended the meeting, roughly twice the usual attendance for a meeting of the city council. There was a roughly 50-50 mix of residents and city employees at the meeting.
Morrow resident, Randy Anderson, said he believed people came to the meeting because, like him, they wanted to see what the council's final decision on Lampl would be. "You'd hear things, and see things in the newspaper, but this was kind of finality for me," he said.
Some residents said they felt that the best thing for their city was to see Lampl leave office. Some , like Anderson, said they believe Morrow is the best city in Clayton County, but they felt the negative press surrounding Lampl's actions had become a black eye for the city.
"You can't have people of that caliber representing the city," Anderson said. He later added, "it's a bad taste, it really is, for a city like this."
Some people said they felt Lampl's management style was a key reason why he needed to go. During his removal hearing last month, testimony from Millirons and some city employees showed a pattern of alleged mistreatment of city employees, the mayor, and contempt for other members of the city council.
"Its sad, but it's good news [about the removal]," said Morrow resident, Carole DeMarco.
Lampl did not attend the hearing, or the called city council meeting last week where the hearing panel's decision was announced. No attorney showed up to represent him during the hearing, either. While the hearing was taking place, Lampl told the Clayton News Daily, during a telephone interview, that he did not feel he had a chance of getting a fair hearing because the city would not provide an attorney to defend him.
"The city didn't need to provide him with one," said Anderson, on Tuesday. "It's like me doing something that makes the company I work for look bad, and then asking them to defend me. If he did something to drag down the city, the city doesn't owe him legal defense."