Mayor Burke: ‘To my knowledge, none of them knew each other’

Finding hidden connections in the controversial Morrow police chief hiring process

MORROW — There are some dots to connect behind the scenes of the hiring process of Morrow’s police chief.

Residents expressed concern about the council’s 3-2 decision to hire Melvin Douglas because of his controversial professional past — and because he worked from 1984 to 2010 for the police department in East Point, the same city where controversial City Manager Ronnie Few worked as fire chief from 1972 until 1997.

Burke previously told Clayton News Daily he didn’t think citizens should worry about a connection among Few, Douglas or anyone else involved in the search.

“It was completely fair,” he said. “To my knowledge, none of them knew each other.”

But Douglas himself said that is not the case.

Few was hired as city manager in Morrow a surprise decision made without any interviews in January. Human Resources Director Becky Zebe said she wasn’t familiar with his work history — one peppered with controversy.

The same council members who voted to hire Few — Hang Tran, Christopher Mills and Burke — also voted to hire Douglas.

The resume Few used to apply for the city manager position contains three references, according to documents obtained by Clayton News Daily.

One of those references is Ann Douglas, which happens to be the name of Chief Melvin Douglas’ mother.

Few’s resume doesn’t list any credentials for this Ann Douglas, but Melvin Douglas said his mother served as a council member in East Point and that he’s “pretty sure” she knew Few when she worked there.

A Washington Times article written in September 2000 when Few was hired as fire chief in Washington D.C., quoted an East Point council member by the name of Ann Douglas supporting Few, even as the reporter of the article scrutinized him for a “grand jury probe” he was undergoing in Augusta-Richmond County, Ga., at the time.

“You’re gaining a great chief,” Ann Douglas said to the Washington Times. “I wish we could have held on to him.”

Despite his mother’s connection to Few, Douglas said he never personally knew Morrow’s city manager.

“I knew he was the fire chief, but I was in the police department and he was in the fire department — I never had the opportunity to work with him,” Douglas said. “I knew he was a very good fire chief there. Now I see him as a very good city manager.”

Few, Douglas and his mother aren’t the only dots to connect behind the scenes of the new chief’s hire.

Few was in charge of appointing a hiring facilitator. He chose John S. Richey, a deputy chief investigator for the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office.

Douglas worked for that office as a paralegal in the white collar crime unit from 2010 until 2012 when he began working as an investigator in Trial Division Nine. He worked there until he was hired as Morrow’s police chief.

Douglas said he knew Richey, but couldn’t specify whether or not he knew him “well” because he wasn’t sure what was meant by that question.

“I know him, yes, but I don’t work with him,” he said.

Douglas and Richey have worked in law enforcement for about 30 years — so Douglas said it would be unlikely for the two not to know each other.

Clayton News Daily could not reach Few for comment on why he chose Richey as facilitator.

Richey had two jobs during the hiring process — to help oversee the background checks of the candidates and to choose three people to serve on the law enforcement panel that would score each candidate.

Of the three people he chose, at least one had worked for the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office during the same time as Douglas. For the past year, William “Clay” Nix has served as the chief inspector in the Georgia Department of Corrections — but in 2005 he began working in the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Office.

From 2008 until 2013, Nix worked as the investigator in charge of public integrity and white collar crime units — the same unit where Douglas worked as a paralegal for about two years.

The law enforcement panel Nix served on for Morrow ranked another police chief candidate — Kennis Harrell — as the top candidate. Douglas was ranked second followed by internal candidate Greg Tatroe.

Clayton News Daily could not reach Richey or Nix for comment as of press time Friday.

Morrow residents have become increasingly concerned throughout the police chief hiring process. Burke has thrown three irate residents out of council meetings since Douglas’ hire and a handful more have approached Clayton News Daily anonymously with concerns.

But Douglas said he wasn’t aware of any concerns about his appointment as police chief.

“I’m not sure about the hiring process or how it worked or was conducted or anything like that,” he said. “But I morally and ethically answered every question and I now have the privilege of being the police chief here.”

Douglas said his first act as chief will be to introduce himself to his officers and to begin working closely with the Neighborhood Watch committee.

“I’m excited about the opportunity to serve the citizens of the city of Morrow,” he said.