Next Morrow mayor, Jeff DeTar, hopes to rebuild trust with residents, neighbors

Jeff DeTar

MORROW — Morrow’s next mayor hopes to start fixing some of the city’s trust issues when he takes his new position in January.

“The city government has blown its trust with its citizens and neighboring governments,” Jeff DeTar said. “I need to repair that. The trust needs to get back to where it was five years ago.”

The majority of Morrow residents elected DeTar as the next mayor by 350 votes to Mayor J.B. Burke’s 239 votes. That’s an entirely different outcome from the November 2011 elections, when Burke beat DeTar by only one provisional ballot.

DeTar may have secured enough resident trust to win the election, but he said his work in that area is hardly over.

“I want to put residents back in front of the agenda and to get our community moving forward again,” he said.

DeTar said he hopes to start that level of transparency by limiting the number of executive sessions Morrow’s council goes into. Executive sessions are council meetings closed off to the public. Governing bodies can legally hold executive sessions to talk about real estate, personnel and legal matters.

But those matters don’t have to be discussed in executive session — council can decide to discuss them in public. DeTar said he’d rather lean toward public discussion.

“I am tired of closed door meetings,” he said.

Morrow’s 31 total council meetings so far this calendar year have included 19 executive sessions, according to the city’s council minutes posted online. That means the council moves into closed-door meetings about 61 percent of the time.

By way of comparison, Riverdale has held about 18 meetings so far this year and has convened into executive session 72 percent of the time. Forest Park has not convened into executive session at all throughout its 20 meetings so far this year.

DeTar said he’d like to focus on getting Morrow’s number of executive meetings down for transparency’s sake.

“I want to do everything I can to bring as much as possible back on the record,” he said.

DeTar also said he realized residents needed more from the city government than transparency — they needed support.

“We have all these community organizations that need the full support of the government,” he said.

Many Morrow residents stay involved in the community through organizations such as Morrow Community Action Network, Morrow Neighbors Helping Neighbors and neighborhood watches. DeTar said he knew the city couldn’t afford to financially support the organizations, but he said he wanted to see them better able to communicate with the city government and its employees.

“That door got shut and I want to see if that can be opened back up because they could use the help,” he said. “For instance, the neighborhood watch depends on information from the police department. There has been some resistance on that.”

DeTar said he believed opening up more to those community-oriented organizations will bring improvement to the city. That’s a good start, but he said it doesn’t mean much if Morrow doesn’t communicate its improvements to the world.

“We need to start taking ourselves seriously,” DeTar said. “We have all this glorious stuff here and nobody knows about it.”

He said he felt Morrow never appropriately took advantage of its proximity to Clayton State University, a local college serving about 7,000 students. He also pointed out that the college’s concert venue, Spivey Hall, has gained national attention. He said the city has so far failed to capitalize on that attention.

“For crying out loud, why aren’t we taking advantage of this?” DeTar said.

Morrow’s next mayor doesn’t just feel that way about his own city. He said he believes the whole county has untapped potential that could be reached if all the cities’ leaders would work closely together.

“We need everybody on the same sheet of music,” DeTar said. “The Chamber of Commerce can’t do it all.”

DeTar said Morrow needs to mend ties with surrounding governments before it can join the effort to put Clayton County on the map. He said he realized that may be difficult, especially since other government leaders don’t know him well, yet.

“The city has broken its trust with all the neighboring municipalities and the county. I need to repair that,” he said. “Of course, working with them is going to take a while. They don’t know me. I need to show them that I am trustworthy.”

But before any of that bigger picture work can begin, DeTar said he needs to focus on gaining the trust of Morrow’s residents. That includes the 239 residents who didn’t vote for him.

“I have this weird idea that I would really like to talk to them and find out why they thought the other guy could do a better job,” DeTar said. “Because if those ideas are wasted, nothing will get any better. Let’s see what we can get done together.”

DeTar will serve as mayor of Morrow beginning in January. He will serve with councilmembers Jeanell Bridges and Larry Ferguson, who won their bids for reelection Tuesday night. He’ll also serve with returning councilmembers Hang Tran and Chris Mills.

For more information on Tuesday night’s elections, visit news-daily.com.

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