DA pressures Lovejoy mayor to resign

Lovejoy Mayor Joseph Murphy resigned Thursday to stop a special grand jury investigation into allegations of voter fraud involving him, and members of his family, said Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson.

According to Lawson, Murphy also agreed to never seek elected office again.

Murphy said, Friday night, he had no specific comment. "You can get all the information you need from the district attorney," he said. "She's got it all under control."

His attorney, former Clayton Commission Chairman Crandall Bray, was unavailable until Monday, said a woman answering his law office phone.

Lawson declined to discuss the agreement reached between her office and Murphy, because charges will not be filed. "This has to do with the special purpose grand jury," she said. "We have been presenting evidence to that body about [alleged] voter fraud involving Murphy and his family members. This has to do with allegations that people didn't live in the jurisdiction where they voted."

The Lovejoy City Council will meet Monday, at 2 p.m., to decide whether to accept Murphy's resignation, said Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Cartwright.

"At this point, for Joe's sake, we may be forced to accept the resignation," he said. "If we turn down the resignation, it could cause him more pain. There is a proper way to do this, and we have to accept it. It is important to follow procedure."

Once the resignation is accepted, Cartwright will assume the duties of mayor until Dec. 30, when Murphy's term ends. Murphy had already qualified to run for another four years, and had no opposition.

"If someone had beaten him in an election, that's one thing," said Cartwright. "Forcing him to resign is another. It's a loss to the City of Lovejoy."

Cartwright blamed pressure from the county.

"There's been a lot of bad blood for years and years," he said. "We've been fortunate to keep it out of Lovejoy, but now it's affecting us. I am sure [Lawson] feels like she is doing what she had to do."

Murphy has been mayor since 2001, and prior to that, served 10 years as a city councilman.

But Murphy's political involvements extend outside the limits of Lovejoy. As assistant director of Clayton County Community Development, Murphy raised allegations of alleged misconduct by his boss, Donnie Hood. The allegations led to Hood's indictment on theft charges. He pleaded not guilty, but committed suicide after then-District Attorney Jewel Scott said she would take away his pension and benefits.

After Hood's March 2008 death, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution honoring Hood's dedication to the county and questioning the validity of Scott's investigation, which the board said was politically motivated.

Scott's husband, Headley "Lee" Scott, unsuccessfully tried to unseat Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell in the following election. Hood's attorney, Bill Atkins, accused Jewel Scott of using the investigation to get Hood to reveal information about Bell that was allegedly politically damaging.

Jewel Scott, however, lost her bid for re-election to Lawson that same year.

Murphy was later fired under allegations he signed off on building permits without inspecting work done by companies to which he was financially connected.

Murphy also came under criticism in June when it was revealed that construction of the Lovejoy public safety building that bears his name was not done through the competitive bidding process. Murphy said, at that time, he saved city taxpayers 10-to-15 percent of the cost by not hiring a general contractor.

Bell said Friday night that he has sympathy for Murphy's family, but elected officials have a responsibility to "do the right thing." He said Lawson took the right action.

"I applaud the D.A. for her work in cleaning up government in Clayton County," Bell said, adding that he believed Murphy's resignation "will help restore the citizens' trust in government."

Lovejoy councilmembers also reacted to news of the resignation. Post 1 Representative Tommy Green said he was "shocked." Post 3 Representative Rebekah Holland Wright, said Murphy served his constituency well. "If a citizen needed help and Joe knew about it, he would take it upon himself to assist them," Wright said. "Whenever there was damage from rain or storms, Joe and Bobby would be the first to help our citizens in their time of need. Joe will be missed."

Cartwright echoed Wright's assessment. "Joe Murphy and I are dear friends and have been for years and years," he said. "Joe is going to be missed horribly by the city, staff and residents. He does a great job."

–– Staff writers Curt Yeomans and M. J. Subiria Arauz contributed to this article