Former Morrow Mayor Jim Millirons accusses current city elected officials of becoming “washed out” Tuesday and letting a “supernatural support force,” made up of department heads, tell them what to do.
MORROW This week’s Morrow City Council meeting repeatedly broke down into bickering between current and former city officials Tuesday over planning and permit issues.
City Manager Jeff Eady and longtime former Mayor Jim Millirons got into a heated exchange over planning issues after the retired mayor all but called the city council useless. One resident also stood up and criticized city leaders for “making bad press” with recent permit controversies, which prompted a tirade from Eady against Clayton News Daily because he did not like the way “sentences” about him were phrased in articles.
Current Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke stopped everyone in their tracks, however, when he accused city Planning and Economic Development Director Michael McLaughlin of openly disregarding the city’s laws regarding permits.
The issue has been brewing for a month and came to a head over a “Trunk-or-Treat” event First Baptist Church of Morrow wanted to hold on church grounds. The city charged the church $80 for an event permit, but it has since been refunded.
“It is unfortunate what happened to First Baptist Church and it’s even more unfortunate that the $80 fee attached to this ordinance never existed,” Burke said. “The problem that I have is the economic development director knew that it didn’t exist, couldn’t find it, didn’t ask and didn’t do anything about it.”
The fireworks at this week’s city council meeting was the explosion of rumored long-simmering tensions within Morrow City Government — including alleged friction between Burke and members of the city council as well as with McLaughlin — over planning and development issues.
Once Burke made his statement at the meeting, he struggled to get council members to cooperate for the adjournment of the meeting. He called for a motion to adjourn and council members sat there quietly until Councilman Larry Ferguson finally made the motion. A similar scene happened when Burke asked for a second to Ferguson’s motion, until Councilman Bob Huie finally offered a second.
After the meeting, McLaughlin declined to comment on Burke’s allegations against him. “It wouldn’t matter if I did anyway,” said the economic development official.
In a break between meetings, Burke confirmed he has launched a full investigation into permit and fee attachment issues in the city.
He said it is an inquiry into permits in general, and not focused to event permits which became a source of controversy after the First Baptist Church of Morrow incident came to light two weeks ago.
Burke said “several high-profile people” in Morrow contacted him about the permit issue and demanded answers after news broke about the church being charged a fee to hold an event for children in the city.
“When this first came up during the last council meeting, I did begin to ask some questions and needed some answers,” said Burke. “Other issues began to arise. Yes, there is an ongoing investigation and so far I have gone back as far as March 2010. At this juncture, I am not prepared to make any further comment because the investigation is ongoing.”
But, if Burke’s comments about McLaughlin were the show-stopper, then Millirons and Eady provided the eye-opening exchange.
Millirons, who was sitting in the audience, became upset when city officials proposed applying for an Atlanta Regional Commission LCI study grant that could require the city spend up to $16,000 in matching funds. Millirons disagreed with spending the money on another study, arguing previous studies did not prove fruitful enough to satisfy him.
He accused city staff of spending approximately “half-a-billion dollars” in “planning for nothing.”
The ex-mayor, who led the city for 16 years until this past January, then told city leaders he’d had enough of department heads taking a “holier-than-thou” attitude toward residents and business owners. He said he’s heard more about city officials running people away form the city because of “damn poor attitudes” than he’d heard about those same officials bringing businesses to town.
“We now have a supernatural support force, in my opinion, and a council that is washed out, because you work with the permission of the very people right here,” said Millirons, while referring to department heads. “I was seeing that before I left [elected office], and I objected to it then and I object to it now.”
The former mayor then challenged Eady and McLaughlin to explain all of the icons in Morrow’s logo. Eady angrily rattled off the meaning of each icon. At one point, Eady appeared to make a veiled accusation that the city, under Millirons’ leadership, squandered funds and resources.
“The fourth icon is the economy, the economic viability of this city, so we can move forward with what we can do with the small number of resources that we do currently have — mainly because of some of the past decisions that were made and the cards that we were dealt,” said Eady. “We’re limited on what we can do.”