Morrow City Attorney Laurel Henderson makes a presentation about pending litigation to the City Council Monday night. In a surprise move, council members voted to appoint Henderson, who has announced plans to resign, to replace herself on an interim basis.
MORROW Ongoing political drama in Morrow took an unexpected turn when the city attorney — who had announced plans to resign — was unanimously appointed by the City Council to replace herself on an interim basis Monday.
Council members were poised to appoint Morrow Downtown Development Authority legal counsel Greg Hecht as interim city attorney during a called meeting. He would have replaced current City Attorney Laurel Henderson, who tendered her resignation to the council last month. Her last day on the job was set to be Dec. 31.
However, Henderson threw a wrench into the City Council’s apparent plans at the last minute and offered to stay with Morrow on a temporary basis until a permanent replacement could be hired.
“I would never leave you in the lurch on pending legal matters,” Henderson said. “If you are in the process of looking for a new city attorney, I would rather you take the time to do a thorough search, and be happy with what you come up with, rather than rush into something because you feel you have no choice.
“I’m willing to continue, if it is your pleasure to have me continue , for a time while you conduct your search.”
The unexpected development gives the City Council time to carry a search for a new city attorney into the next year without having to bring in some one on a temporary basis. Applications have already started to flow in from attorneys interested in being Morrow’s next permanent city attorney and interviews are expected to take place Jan. 8.
City Manager Jeff Eady told council members the interviews must be done in public which means residents will have a chance to hear several attorneys make their pitches to guide their elected officials through legal challenges.
In her resignation letter, Henderson had complained to council members that they had left her in the dark on several legal matters lately, while consulting with outside attorneys behind her back. However, she did not name any specific attorneys in the letter.
Several members of the City Council expressed faith in Henderson’s abilities to represent the city by admitting she knew enough about legal cases in which the city is involved to warrant retaining her for a little bit longer.
“We should let Laurel finish out the cases she’s working on for us,” said Council member Larry Ferguson.
Ferguson also admitted the ongoing search was a factor in keeping Henderson on board instead of going with Hecht.
“Mr. Hecht is a candidate [for the permanent job],” he said.
Forest Park City Attorney Robert Mack and Steve Fincher, the city attorney for Lake City and Jonesboro, have also submitted their credentials to Morrow in attempts to get the job, city officials announced during a pre-meeting work session.
Hecht brings somewhat of a high profile to the pool of applicants because he spent eight years serving in both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly, first as a state representative and later as a state senator in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. He also ran unsuccessfully to be the Democratic Party’s candidate for lieutenant governor in 2006.
But, appointing Hecht as interim city attorney likely would have raised eyebrows because of his ties to a city official who is engaged in a political feud with Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke. As the Morrow Downtown Development Authority’s legal counsel, Hecht works under city Planning and Economic Development Director Michael McLaughlin, who has a pending grievance against Burke.
The city’s website explains planning and economic development staff “serve as the administrative arm of the Downtown Development Authority” and McLaughlin runs the group as its executive director.
The mayor criticized McLaughlin’s handling of permit fees during an Oct. 23 council meeting.
The council’s handling of that grievance has led to allegations that council members violated Georgia’s Open Meetings Act and heard evidence against Burke and decided to how to punish him during a Nov. 5 executive session. The mayor received a letter from the council Nov. 6, informing him that council members had decided to order him to apologize to McLaughlin, the council and Morrow’s residents.
No public discussion of the grievance has taken place and no public votes have been taken by council members on how to sanction Burke.