Jackson County

New Pascagoula councilman to resign from law firm rather than fight ethics issue

Newly elected Pascagoula Councilman Stephen Burrow to resign from established law firm and start a new one of his own to avoid ethics questions.
Newly elected Pascagoula Councilman Stephen Burrow to resign from established law firm and start a new one of his own to avoid ethics questions.

Newly elected Pascagoula City Councilman Stephen Burrow has announced he will resign his position with the law firm Heidelberg, Steinberger, Colmer & Burrow to satisfy ethics and conflict of interest questions that arose during his campaign for Ward 3.

He said in a statement to the media Thursday that rather than fight a court battle over the issues and drag his family through that, he would resign the law firm he has been with for 26 years and serve the city as a councilman.

He said he would resign on June 30, before he is sworn in as a councilman, and establish The Burrow Law Firm PLLC.

“This course of action is best for my city, and, most importantly, my family,” he said in the statement.

He said this is his first “foray into public office, which I face with excitement and anticipation...”

He said he is looking forward to working with newly elected Mayor Dane Maxwell and the council “to take Pascagoula to the next level.”

This will include naming a new city manager, possibly the creation of an assistant city manage position and the elimination of another position.

What happened?

During the recent campaign, City Attorney Eddie Williams went to the Mississippi Ethics Commission with what he believed was a conflict of interest for Burrow and newly elected Councilwoman at-large Jennifer Colmer.

The Heidelberg law firm represents the Jackson County Utility Authority — an entity that Pascagoula pays to treat city sewage and an entity the city is currently suing over issues of the cost of sewage treatment. Burrow was a partner in the firm and Colmer is married to a partner in the firm.

Williams asked for an advisory opinion from the ethics commission on whether the law firm could continue to represent the JCUA with a partner and the spouse of a partner on the City Council. The JCUA receives roughly $300,000 a month from Pascagoula.

The commission said, no, if the two take office and the JCUA continues to use city money to pay the law firm. It called that a conflict of interest. One possible way around it, the commission said, would be to prove that no money the city pays JCUA goes into the pockets of Burrow or Jennifer Colmer via the law firm.

Instead, Burrow said he is resigning from Heidelberg, Steinberger, Colmer & Burrow.

Questions might linger

Burrow said that even though he disagreed with the ethics commission opinion, questions about the opinion would remain in the minds of the people.

He said continuing with the law firm and challenging the opinion in court would be “time consuming and divert attention away from urgent business facing my hometown in the next few months and years.

“It would also be a constant distraction for my wife and four children, who have been my greatest supporters and are the primary reasons I ran for this office.”

He said this of the commission’s opinion: “In addition to being based upon incomplete and mischaracterized facts, it is inconsistent with opinions rendered by it in prior situations involving employees and agents for public utilities serving as city aldermen or councilmen.”

Burrow said, “I am grateful for the confidence the voters of Pascagoula’s Ward 3 have shown in electing me as their next councilman.

“I am even more humbled by the vote in my favor, which came after a concerted effort by several persons to influence the election using the Mississippi Ethics Commission advisory opinion process. My opponent, Marcel Kinnard, demonstrated great wisdom in realizing what this effort was truly about, and ran a great campaign focusing on the issues facing Pascagoula, and Ward 3 in particular.”

The new Burrow Law Firm, PLLC, will be located at 1126 Jackson Avenue, Suite 102 in Pascagoula.