Morrow leaders remain mired in squabbles

— Morrow City Council has been publicly cordial with Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke for much of the last five months but old tensions have occasionally risen to the surface.

Two instances where lingering tensions between council members and the mayor bubbled up during their last meeting.

It was one of the most prevalent signs in months that the city’s leaders can’t get along. Officials had been engaged in something akin to a truce since November, when the council stood accused of violating Georgia’s open meetings law while trying to censure Burke for publicly criticizing a department head.

No one actually came out and admitted during the meeting that tensions still exist. However, their interactions with each other betrayed their silence on the issue.

In one instance, the council gave the impression during a work session that it would pull two related planning and zoning-related items from its business meeting agenda at Burke’s request. Minutes later, during the business meeting, the council voted 2-1 to remove the items, but three "yes" votes are needed to change the agenda.

One item was a presentation on a planned zoning re-write and the creation of a citizens input panel. The other item was a vote to create the panel. Burke said he opposed the panel because residents already have a planning and zoning board and a city council to handle the issues. He said both bodies accept public comments during open meetings.

“The citizens and the business community have an opportunity, before any decisions are made, to come to a council meeting and voice their opinion,” Burke said. “As mayor and council, we listen to our citizens and make decisions for the people who put us here in these seats.”

Councilwoman Jeanell Bridges voted against the change without giving a reason.

However, the refusal to pull the items from the agenda proved to be in vain because the Planning and Zoning Department employee who was supposed to give the presentation didn’t show up. Both items had to be tabled.

Later in the meeting, Burke and Councilman Bob Huie argued over whether the council should move forward with an appointment to the Morrow Downtown Development Authority Board. There are at least three vacancies on the board.

Huie wanted to appoint longtime resident Jim Duckworth to fill a seat which had been vacant for more than a year.

Burke implored Huie to wait for one meeting because several residents and community leaders had approached him about vacant seats on the board. He said Clayton State University President Dr. Tim Hynes is among the interested parties.

The mayor said Hynes is interested in seeing one of the college’s administrators, professors, staff members or students appointed to the board so the school can have greater input in the city where it is located.

Burke said he was in the process of meeting with people who’d expressed an interest in serving.

“I sent you an email to see if you would be willing to table this for 14 days but I don’t recall getting a response,” Burke said.

Huie sternly refused to consider a delay, arguing that Duckworth was worthy of the position because he is a concerned resident and that the vacancies were keeping the board from meeting due to a lack of a quorum.

“My reply is tonight, Mr. Mayor, because one of these slots has been vacant for a year and I don’t see any reason to carry it any further,” Huie said.