Morrow’s new city manager, Ron Few, and newly elected councilwoman, Hang Tran, respond to residents during Tuesday’s council meeting. Tran also was appointed mayor pro tem. (Staff Photo: Johnny Jackson)
MORROW — Residents lodged questions of ethics violations and “Trojan Horse” tactics during the council meeting at Morrow City Hall, a full house seemingly as divided as the council itself.
Complaints bombarded the four-member panel Tuesday. But there was also an equal amount of optimism and support from citizens who spoke during the public participation portion of the meeting.
Some called for the immediate resignation, or termination, of the city’s newly hired City Manager Ron Few, pointing to the man’s perceived lack of credentials as a municipal leader and scoffing at the manner in which he was hired.
Few has been the subject of some controversy before. He is a former fire chief in East Point, Augusta, Washington D.C. and Demopolis, Ala., who reportedly lost a mayoral election in Augusta back in 2006.
“You can’t be a fire chief and have a record,” said Few, responding to questions about his background. “I have no problem with background checks. It’s clean as a whistle. I’m going to be a city manager for all of our people.”
However, residents contended the council’s two veteran members, Jeanell Bridges and Larry Ferguson, were not privy to the hiring process. They alleged that newly elected Councilman Christopher Mills, and maybe newly elected Councilwoman Hang Tran, were engaged in talks with Mayor J.B. Burke regarding Few’s hiring.
Ferguson said he received several phone calls from constituents over the past month.
“They don’t agree with the Trojan Horse method of choosing a city manager,” he said.
Bridges added to the sentiment.
“What happened was unethical,” said Bridges. “How can we be OK with unethical practices? It is my hope that one day our citizens will be able to look upon this council and the mayor, not with disappointment, but with confidence and respect.”
Dorthy Dean, a resident of 12 years, scolded the council.
“This was disrespectful, deceitful and without honor, and your reputations will reflect that,” said Dean. “Transparency will be the rule, and you must restore our city’s pride. Show us that you have respect and integrity. We all want to move forward for our city and our growth.”
A local businessman called upon the council to use its community resources, repeating to each member “use me” to help promote business and development in the city known for its commerce.
He pointed to several major retailers in Morrow that have shuttered or plan to close their doors such as JCPenney and Target. Reportedly, some of those retailers are thriving just a few miles farther south along the I-75 corridor in the McDonough area of Henry County.
Some viewed as adding insult to injury was Tran’s appointment to mayor pro tem. She voted for herself with the support of Mills and a tie-breaking vote from Burke.
Tran’s appointment was the only new appointment made Tuesday among half a dozen such appointments. She replaces Ferguson, who was reappointed as liaison to the Clayton County Municipal Association.
Other re-appointments were: Sylvia Redic as interim records custodian; Ronald Freeman as municipal judge; Mike Martin as associate municipal judge; Jerry Patrick as municipal solicitor; and Jason Martin as associate municipal solicitor.
Bridges said she felt like Tran would have been better served her first year in office learning from the more experienced Ferguson as opposed to taking on the pro tem role straight on.
Tran said she had no intentions to disrespect senior council members with her vote of confidence for Few and acceptance of the mayor pro tem position. She said her votes were guided by her promise to voters to provide change in city leadership, which in recent years has endured increased scrutiny for its handling of commerce-related projects.
“Please, respect my decisions,” said Tran.
Morrow resident Tony Shaw defended the new council members.
“Integrity, honesty and procedures have to be applied consistently,” said Shaw. “In the last five years, we have lost more businesses than anybody else in the county. To the new council members, very few people who mention honesty and integrity have a leg to stand on.”