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EDITORIAL: Did Morrow City Council break the law?

Did Morrow City Council break the law? 

Or did they discipline the mayor without evidence?

Here is what the law says:

O.C.G.A 50-14-2(b)(2) “...This exception (allowing executive sessions) shall not apply to the receipt of evidence or when hearing argument on personnel matters, including whether to impose disciplinary action or dismiss a public officer or employee or when considering or discussing matters of policy regarding the employment or hiring practices of the agency. The vote on any matter covered by this paragraph shall be taken in public and minutes of the meeting as provided in this chapter shall be made available. Meetings by an agency to discuss or take action on the filling of a vacancy in the membership of the agency itself shall at all times be open to the public as provided in this chapter.”

Here is what the Morrow City Council did:

• Called an executive session Nov. 5;

• Met, then recessed into executive session with the mayor, the city manager and city clerk;

• Returned from executive session and said they had not reached a decision but would announce a decision at the Nov. 13 city council meeting; 

• Wrote a letter dated Nov. 6, saying the city council had reached a decision, having “unanimously agreed,” to take disciplinary action against the mayor.

• The City of Morrow, when queried by the Clayton News Daily, stated that during its executive session that “no evidence or argument” was presented in the executive session.

So, the Georgia Open Meetings Act specifically states that the exception in the Act that allows a city council to go into executive session does not apply to a meeting for “receipt of evidence or when hearing argument on personnel matters, including whether to impose disciplinary action.” However, Morrow City Council obviously, based on the letter dated Nov. 6, met in executive session for that express purpose, viz. to hear evidence and arguments to consider disciplinary action. When a city official told the newspaper Thursday the meeting was not in violation of the Open Meeting Act, does that mean city council made a decision to discipline the mayor that was based on “no evidence,” and “no arguments?” Seriously?

And, the Georgia Open Meetings Act specifically says, “voting on any matter,” is to be done in public. The Morrow City Council, based on the Nov. 6 letter, obviously voted outside of an open public meeting because the letter states, “The Council Members have unanimously agreed.” 

By the way, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Can the Morrow city charter trump the First Amendment?

The irony of all ironies in this situation is that the very city council that has brought and acted on very spurious allegations against the city’s popularly elected mayor, alleging he has violated a city charter, appears to have violated state law itself. 

What is the supposed ethics breach by the mayor? He said something that someone did not like? He asked questions that made some uncomfortable? He spoke with a city employee? He usurped the authority of a city manager, who is not an elected official? Anyone can say at anytime they were intimidated, humiliated or threatened, can they not?

If, for an example, a department head in Morrow gives a report, or shows a budget overview and another member of the city council were to say, “That’s not enough information, why is your report incomplete?” Is the council going to discipline that elected official because the city employee was embarrassed by the question being asked in an open public meeting? What if council members dared to roll their eyes if someone said something they disagreed with in a meeting? Would that be humiliation? What if the mayor pro tempore were speaking when the mayor has the floor during a meeting? Is that humiliation? Does that deserve discipline? Who wants to open this can of worms? 

The Morrow City Council has. 

Citizens of Morrow, this is your government. Take control of it, because it is out of control. Citizens of Morrow, you elected this mayor. You have every right to make known your displeasure with this action by the city council.

The city council cannot have it both ways. Either they had a meeting to consider disciplining the mayor and heard evidence and arguments against the mayor in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Or, they wrote a letter taking action against the mayor with no evidence or argument against him.

Either way, their actions would be unacceptable and likely illegal.

Citizens of Morrow, if you want to challenge action taken in a meeting that violates state law, you must do so within 90 days of the alleged violation (O.C.G.A. 50-14-1(b) (2)). 

Members of the Morrow City Council, you should know criminal penalties for a willful violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act are $1,000 for the first offense and $2,500 for the second offense. 

Editor Jim Zachary

Comments

OscarKnight 2 years, 1 month ago

...."Citizens of Morrow, this is your government."

........Remind Your City Government ,That Oscar, and His Family, won't be spending one red cent in your city this Christmas Season !!

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jeffdetar 2 years, 1 month ago

You THINK they "voted behind closed doors" so they must have. Actually, the letter you reference is probably the council asking legal about their options. Since the council did NOTHING at the meeting I fail to see the basis for your charges.

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AnotherMorrowResident 2 years, 1 month ago

Are you kidding? Were you there? The letter in question was not not addressed to legal counsel, it was addressed to the mayor. If you fail to see the basis, I have a seeing-eye dog I'd like to sell you? Is is possible you might actually be being courted for an appointment to the council if this tragic coup becomes a reality? Just what we need, another puppet that can't think for themselves. Just a thought!!!!

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AnotherMorrowResident 2 years, 1 month ago

Mr Editor, If council can try to "bully" the mayor into a public apology for allegedly violating the City Charter, can the mayor demand a public apology and letter to citizens from council for allegedly breaking state law and then lying about it?

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AnotherMorrowResident 2 years, 1 month ago

Does Morrow City Council Even Know the Law?, is what this headline should have read.

The City of Morrow's website, www.cityofmorrow.com, links it's citizens to www.minicode.com for the City of Morrow's Code of Ordinances.

In the letter addressed to Mayor Burke dated November 6, 2012 and signed by Bridges, Huie, Slaton and Ferguson there are a few discrepancies between what is stated in this letter and what is in the Morrow, GA - Code of Ordinances.

The first discrepancy is as follows:

(From the letter to Mayor Burke): Violation of the City Charter, Section 2.15 "The City Council or it's Members shall deal with city officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the City Manager solely through the City Manager, and neither the City Council nor it's members shall give any order to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately."

(From Morrow, GA - Code of Ordinances) Sec. 2.15. - Inquiries and investigations.

Following the adoption of an authorizing resolution, the city council may make inquiries and investigations into the affairs of the city and the conduct of any department, office, or agency thereof and for this purpose may subpoena witnesses, administer oaths, take testimony, and require the production of evidence. Any person who fails or refuses to obey a lawful order issued in the exercise of these powers by the city council shall be punished as provided by ordinance.

The second discrepancy is as follows:

(From the letter to Mayor Burke) Violation of the City of Morrow Ethics Ordinance, Section 2-2-5 "No City Official shall use his position in such a manner as to threaten, intimidate or humiliate the public or City workforce."

(From Morrow, GA - Code of Ordinances) Sec. 2-2-5. - Appeals.

An official disputing the action of the hearing body shall have 30 days to appeal the decision to Superior Court of Clayton County by writ of certiorari.

Look it up for yourselves Morrow Citizens. Why the discrepancies? Does the council not even know what the Ordinances are that it they are trying to enforce?

To quote your letter; Bridges, Huie, Slaton and Ferguson. "The Citizens of Morrow are watching and it is imperative that we restore honor and dignity to out City's elected body."

Mayor Burke, thank you for taking lead. Council Members, you all should be re-thinking your game plan in trying to oust Mayor Burke.

My final thought would be to Council Members Bridges, Huie, Slaton and Ferguson. We the Citizens of Morrow are not the dumb masses you think we are.

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OscarKnight 2 years ago

.....What does Morrow's City Codes tells about their regular customer base taking their money elsewhere ?

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AnotherMorrowResident 2 years, 1 month ago

Correction. City of Morrow Codes and Ordinances can be found at www.municode.com, not mini

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OscarKnight 2 years ago

...The best part of not visiting Morrow, is not being punished for spending money.

......Greed is the driving force in Morrow, nothing else.

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