MORROW An embattled member of the city of Morrow’s administration has called it quits.
City Manager Jeff Eady told Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke and city council members by email Tuesday morning that Planning and Economic Development Director Michael McLaughlin has submitted his resignation.
Burke, a vocal critic of McLaughlin, said Morrow “can finally see some progress” now that he is leaving.
“Now that the dark tunnel with no light at the end of it is finally at an end, maybe we can finally see some economic development in the city,” Burke said.
The surprise move comes a week after Councilman Larry Ferguson accused McLaughlin and City Attorney Greg Hecht of misleading the council on how several city properties were being disposed.
Last week, Ferguson said he learned McLaughlin was going to auction the properties. Council members were led to believe the properties would be sold through a broker, said Ferguson during the tense council meeting.
Burke said that may have played a role in McLaughlin’s departure.
“I have heard that, during last week’s work session, Michael took Larry’s comments very personally,” said Burke. “Running a city should be like running a business. You shouldn’t take anything personally.”
However, McLaughlin’s resignation letter offers no explanation for the sudden departure, which was sent to Eady Monday. He only thanked Eady for hiring him.
“It is with regret that I share with you that I am resigning from my position with the city of Morrow, effective two business weeks from today, Friday, May 24,” McLaughlin wrote. “I appreciate the confidence you originally had in hiring me three years ago, and more so I appreciate what you and I along with particular staff have accomplished in Morrow.”
In the big picture, McLaughlin’s departure marks a new twist in an ongoing saga for Morrow.
His public battles with Burke have been at the center of drama in the city at least twice in the last year. Burke has publicly criticized McLaughlin’s work twice, and the last incident nearly resulted in a censure of Burke by the city council in November.
The council backed off after questions were raised about whether it violated Georgia’s Open Meetings Act and deliberated Burke’s fate in secret.
McLaughlin gave the order to close the struggling Olde Towne Morrow development a year after it opened in December 2010 because it was millions of dollars in debt. He was charged about a year ago by the Morrow Downtown Development Authority board to write a request for proposals to get redevelopment at the site going, but little has been heard since then about any progress.
Since Olde Towne closed, it has become a regular target for vandals.
McLaughlin was also criticized in October by the owner of a haunted house who claimed the economic developer told him his business was not welcome in Morrow. The haunted house’s proceeds are donated each year to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and the owner has pledged to never return to the city.
Although McLaughlin’s office initially hesitated to grant the haunted house a business license, it quickly agreed to grant one after media scrutiny.
McLaughlin’s office then charged First Baptist Church of Morrow a fee to hold a children’s Halloween event on church property. The city refunded the fee after a public outcry and officials admitted they couldn’t find proof that they had the legal authority to assess the fee.
Eady and McLaughlin couldn’t be reached Tuesday.