MORROW Officials in Morrow’s Planning and Economic Development office have refunded event permit fees this week, but city officials are offering different numbers for how much money was refunded.
Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke said $420 was refunded because the city could not produce an ordinance which they previously said authorized the charges. He said his understanding is that the refunds are ongoing, which means even more refunds could be given out before the situation is over with.
“At this junction, we have refunded $420 in permit fees so far,” said Burke. “I and the city attorney have been investigating these fees and we are not aware of any city ordinance that authorizes these permits, with fees attached, being passed by any former or existing council members.”
City manager Jeff Eady said only $80 was refunded for a church that wants to hold a Halloween event. He said the $420 figure is how much money it would cost the city to refund all six event permits issued this year.
“The church’s congreation meets every Sunday morning and every Sunday evening for services,” said Eady. “That constitutes an assemblage so we didn’t feel it was right to charge them a permit fee even though we want them to have the permit.”
City staff were under pressure from Burke, Clayton News Daily and City Attorney Laurel Henderson to release the city code that required $80 permits for events held on private property in the city.
Under Burke’s version of events, the refunds mark a reversal for city officials from their previous stance that event permits were required under city law, when they came under fire for requiring a church to buy a permit.
A week and a half ago, Eady and Planning and Economic Development Director Michael McLaughlin told members of the city council that a previous council passed an ordinance which created permits for small events, and mandated a fee be charged for those permits.
The issue came to the attention of city officials and residents, as well as the media, last week after former Mayor Earnest Duffey stood up at a city council meeting to protest the city charging First Baptist Church of Morrow $80 to get a permit to host a “Trick-or-Trunk” event.
Church members began calling Burke’s home and Clayton News Daily office to ask where the permits were authorized in city code. The members said they had tried to get information from the planning and economic development office, but their calls went unanswered.
After a reporter requested the ordinance number Monday, Eady defended the planning office in a way that seemed like the city was discretely accusing church members of lying about their interactions with the office.
“I've checked with Planning and ED and our entire front desk staff and no one has received calls or voice mails as of this time regarding inquiries about the code section or the ordinance related to the permit process for special events,” said Eady in a response e-mailed Monday afternoon to the newspaper. He explained Friday he was not calling the church members liars.
He also said in the e-mail that a church official picked up the permit for the event without complaint. He added he would look into getting the code number, but he has not yet located it.