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EDITORIAL: Attorney hiring process stinks

It appears to be one step ahead and 27 steps back for the Morrow City Council.

There was promise when city leaders backed off a decision reached in illegal private back room meetings late last year to discipline the mayor for doing little more than exercising his First Amendment rights.

There was promise when it looked like city leaders understood that attorney Laurel Henderson had been giving them good advice and they decided to allow her to continue to represent the city until a good replacement could be found.

There was promise when after being accused of abusing executive session city leaders appeared to be discussing more city business in open public sessions.

There was promise when city leaders agreed to revisit the issue of permit fees and the permitting process in general, especially for churches and nonprofits doing community service-type events.

There was promise when city staff, including administrator Jeff Eady, appeared to be a bit more cooperative with the press and a little less combative with citizens.

All those things showed promise.

We were hopeful.

We were hopeful the city council and the city’s professional staff had turned the corner.

We were hopeful they were on the path to greater transparency and a deeper understanding of representative government.

Now, however, promise has turned into disappointment — once again.

While the process of hiring a new city attorney appeared to be an open process on the surface, now it appears the public interviews may have been more of a dog and pony show than a transparent vetting of the most qualified candidate that would be the best fit for the city.

This was an important decision for the future of Morrow city government and had the opportunity to make a strong statement to Morrow citizens about the kind of government they could expect in the weeks, months and years to come.

Rather than being a statement about doing what is in the best interest of citizens, the city council made a statement it will do what it wants to do, when it wants to do it, regardless of what anyone outside their circle thinks or feels about it.

Citizens of Morrow have every reason to be disappointed in every council member.

Councilman Larry Ferguson showed great promise by openly questioning fellow members of the council about the propriety of hiring the most expensive candidate for city attorney while passing over more experienced, lower-priced lawyers.

When it was all said and done, however, he capitulated and voted with his fellows to make the decision to hire Greg Hecht unanimous. He at least demanded the caveat that a lower hourly rate be negotiated.

Ferguson made a good case for hiring attorney Steven Fincher.

Why did he so quickly cave and go with the consensus?

Price is not the only factor in such an important decision.

Interview score sheets were obtained by the Clayton News Daily through an open records request.

The sheets used by members of city council during the interview process had Hecht at the bottom of the pile, in a tie for last place among the four law firms that applied.

How did he move from last place to first place without there being more discussion, deal making, or behind-the-scenes vote getting in his favor?

This city council is already under a microscope.

Why would they even begin to think of making such a questionable selection?

Hecht comes to the table with baggage and potential conflict of interest.

Hecht is the attorney for the Morrow Downtown Development Authority, where he answers to Planning and Economic Development Director Michael McLaughlin. McLaughlin has been at the very center of drama in city government and was the catalyst behind ill-guided efforts to remove the mayor.

The Morrow City Council is digging a hole, deeper and deeper.

The press is not their enemy.

In fact, we want them to get it right, but it is obvious that they are listening to the wrong people.

They should have listened to their former city attorney.

They did not.

They should have listened to the city’s highest elected official.

They did not.

They should have listened to former Mayor Jim Millirons.

They did not.

They should have listened to the Georgia Press Association’s legal counsel.

They did not.

This week they should have listened to the initial concerns of one of their own, Ferguson.

They did not.

They should have paid attention to the score sheets which they implemented for use in the hiring process.

They did not.

They should have been listening to citizens all along.

They have not.

So, who are they listening to?

Did Hecht have the job before the interviewing ever took place?

There were rumors he would be the city’s new attorney almost immediately after Henderson resigned and now he gets the job.

Councilman Virlyn Slaton was not even able to attend the interviews. He did not complete a score sheet. He was in the hospital when the final vote was taken. Despite all those circumstances, they called him on the telephone so he could vote, though they have not done this for other meetings he, or other council members, could not attend in the past.

Who thinks that sounds legit?

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

The district attorney’s office has been valiant when it comes to holding county officials accountable for alleged ethics violations. The citizens of Morrow deserve the same kind of protections.

Citizens of Morrow must shoulder the responsibility of demanding accountability and accessibility to their own government.

Show up at meetings. Question actions that obviously have been decided outside of open public meetings. Demand answers.

Finally, when the time comes, make your voice heard at the polls.

That is your final recourse.

—Editor Jim Zachary

Comments

OscarKnight 1 year, 2 months ago

....Sounds to me, as though Morrow has turn into a Side Show Act, from The Big Top Donkey Circus of Clayton County, Ga.

......Welcome to The Democrat Plantation !!!!

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