It turns out the old adage of “one vote makes a difference” is not just a saying — at least not in the City of Morrow.
City officials revealed on Wednesday that Morrow mayoral candidates Joseph “J.B.” Burke and Jeffrey Allen DeTar finished tied, with 173 votes a piece, in the counting of regular ballots. One provisional ballot that could decide the entire election hung in the balance.
City officials did not release the voting results on election night, on the advice of the city’s legal counsel, because of the closeness of the vote.
The person who cast the provisional ballot provided proof of eligibility to vote in the election on Wednesday, however, according to City Manager Jeff Eady. That resulted in a new count of the vote Wednesday afternoon, and Burke was declared the winner, with 174 votes.
“The election was decided by one vote, and that one vote was the provisional ballot,” Eady said. “We’ve already done a recount. Jeff DeTar was there when the results were announced, and he requested a recount, so we went ahead and did it right there. Both candidates had representatives there to watch the counting take place, and both representatives saw each ballot.”
Burke will replace outgoing Mayor Jim Millirons in January, as the city’s first new mayor in 16 years. Millirons, who announced plans last year to leave the office, did not run for re-election.
Wednesday actually ended up being a double-treat, of sorts, for Burke. He was also released from Grady Memorial Hospital, after a 25-day stay, following a car accident he was involved in last month. He said he was doing “much better” now that he was able to return to his home in Morrow, and put the election behind him.
On top of all of that, election day was also Burke’s 62nd birthday.
“It [the hospital release and the election news] was euphoric,” he said. “I was in disbelief when I heard that it was too close to call [on Tuesday].”
The mayor-elect said he plans to meet with Eady over the next two months, to get up to speed on a number of key issues facing the city. Those issues include efforts to turn around the failed Olde Towne Morrow development, and negotiations between Clayton County and its cities on the county’s Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) that has implications on discussions for a new service delivery agreement for the county.
Burke pledged to work to turn Olde Towne Morrow, which is located behind Southlake Mall, into a success. The development has been mired in problems, ranging from improper plumbing for sprinkler systems in the commercial buildings, to a lack of parking for customers of the shops. The city’s expenses on the project ran into the millions of dollars, but revenues have fallen well short of that.
Former City Councilman John Lampl was indicted by a Clayton County Superior Court Grand Jury over the summer for his role in the project’s construction. He is awaiting trial. City officials shut down Olde Towne Morrow last December, and have been conducting studies since then to find out what can be done with the development.
“I promise the people of Morrow that I am going to work as hard as I can to turn Olde Towne around,” Burke said. “It is not going to fail.” He added that he has “been involved in talks [within the city government] regarding those issues,” but he added he is not in a position to say what the city might have planned for Olde Towne. He said he cannot give a timeline for how soon a turnaround could take place.
Burke and DeTar have been vocal critics of the way the Olde Towne project was developed under Lampl’s guidance. DeTar said he is ready to offer his support to Burke to turn the development around, and make it into a success for the city.
“J.B. and I share the same thoughts about what wasn’t done, with regards to Olde Towne, and about what should have been done there,” DeTar said. “I intend to support him in anyway I can in his effort to turn it around.”
DeTar, who was a political newcomer — like Burke — in the mayoral race, said he is not ruling out the possibility of running again for an elected office in Morrow, including one of two city council seats that will be up for election in 2013.
“Maybe, but it’s too far off to tell,” he said. “My overwhelming sense, right now, is that I’m just glad to have this election over with.”
City Clerk Evyonne Browning said 368 votes were cast, out of 2,868 registered voters, representing a 12.8 percent voter turnout in the city. She added that only 347 ballots were counted, because the rest were “spoiled and unusable.”