Photo by Heather Middleton
By Curt Yeomans
Jeanell Bridges made history on Tuesday night, when she became the first African American to ever sit on the Morrow City Council.
Then, the man she replaced on the council got up at the end of her first council meeting, and announced his bid to be mayor of the city.
Bridges, 69, a 17-year resident of Morrow, comes onto the council in a unique position. She was unanimously appointed by her-now-fellow city councilmembers, at the beginning of the council's meeting on Tuesday, to fill the unexpired term of John Lampl.
Lampl was removed from office by the council earlier this month, on the recommendation of a hearing panel that investigated claims that he mistreated a city employee. Despite the circumstances under which Bridges joined the governing body, Morrow Mayor Jim Millirons quickly pointed out the significance of her appointment to the otherwise all-male city council, as soon as she was sworn in.
"She's made a record in two cases," Millirons told city employees and residents during the meeting. "She's the second female we've had since 1943 [when the city was chartered], and she's the first African American to serve on this council."
Bridges, who worked for Morrow from 2002, to 2007, is expected to, at least, serve until her term expires at the end of December. She said she has not yet decided if she will run for a full four-year term in the city's municipal elections this fall. "We'll see how the interim goes," Bridges joked.
One of her first orders of business was to make a pledge to city employees, residents and other councilmembers, to be a good public servant. "I promise, with all of my heart, that I will work with these gentlemen up here, to make you proud of our city," she said. "We will work hard, to bring us back to where we enjoy living, and being and working."
Bridges' appointment generated an enthusiastic buzz among city employees and residents alike, many of whom came up to hug her, offer her congratulations and have their picture taken with her. "I'm so excited that you got appointed," said Morrow resident, Paula DeTar, to Bridges, after the meeting, echoing sentiments of several other people who approached Bridges.
While Bridges said she had not thought of the historical perspective involved with her appointment, before Tuesday night, she said having the chance to make city history is an "exciting" aspect to her appointment. "I'm humbled by it, I really am," she said.
In addition to being a former city employee, Bridges said she has been a longtime, regular attendee at city council meetings, a volunteer at the Good Shepherd Clinic (which is located in the city), a member of the Kiwanis Club of Southlake, has worked with the city's Urban Redevelopment Agency, and sits on the Board of Directors of the Homeowners Association of Northridge Condominiums.
During the meeting, Millirons joked that she also "adds considerable beauty" to the dais where the councilmembers sit during meetings.
Later, Millirons said the council chose to appoint Bridges, "because we thought she was the right person for the job. She's been a supporter of the city for years. Never asked for anything in return. She's just always there."
In taking Lampl's place, Bridges is gaining the seat she pursued in last year's special election. She lost that race to Lampl. Three months after he took the seat, however, Lampl was the subject of a complaint filed by Morrow's finance director, Dan Defnall, who alleged that Lampl had created a hostile work environment for him.
During a two-day hearing last month, a three-member panel heard evidence that Lampl allegedly engaged in hostile confrontations with Defnall, and made disparaging remarks about the finance director, both in public and in private conversations with city officials.
The panel recommended that Lampl be removed from office, at the beginning of the month, and the council accepted that recommendation on May 10. On Tuesday, however, Bridges said it is time for the city to move forward from the Lampl issue. "I've always been told that you can't get to second base, if you don't take your foot off first base, so we're going to leave the past, in the past," she said. "This is a new day. We're going to move forward."
Lampl has not yet filed an appeal of the council's decision to remove him from office, in Clayton County Superior Court, according to online court records. But, he did give the appearance of possible contentment with his removal, during public comments at the end of the meeting.
"Times change," he told everyone in attendance. "Nothing stays the same. Some good, some bad. That's just the way it is. Don't fight the change. Understand it the best you can, and move forward."
But, Lampl, in a move that left attendees at the city council meeting speechless, made sure he remains in the consciousness of city residents in the coming months.
He announced he is campaigning to be the city's new mayor this fall, in what will be a wide open field, since Millirons is not seeking re-election.
"I'll be knocking on your door for a vote soon, because I fully intend to qualify, and run for the mayor of the City of Morrow in November," Lampl said. "I promise you a very spirited discussion and debate, and ultimately, you get to decide."
He then walked out of city council chambers, as the audience sat in stunned silence.