Jackson County

Pascagoula city attorney who raised ethics concerns told he is out

Veteran Pascagoula City Attorney Eddie Williams said he was told he will not be re-appointed by the incoming City Council.
Veteran Pascagoula City Attorney Eddie Williams said he was told he will not be re-appointed by the incoming City Council.

One newly elected Pascagoula city councilman — Stephen Burrow — has announced he will resign his position with a prominent law firm so he can serve free of ethics accusations.

In another development Thursday, the veteran city attorney who brought up the ethics accusations said he has been notified that he will no longer have a job when the new city council holds its first meeting on July 5. Pascagoula elected six new councilmen and women and a new mayor who take office at the end of the month. One councilman is returning.

City Attorney Eddie Williams, who has served three administrations over 10 years, told the Sun Herald on Thursday that a spokesman for a transition team for the mostly new city council told him “they would not be re-appointing me.”

When asked if he resigned, Williams said, “no.”

He said he had met with Mayor-elect Dane Maxwell two or three times and expressed his interest in keeping the job. He said it was clear he and Maxwell would have a difference of opinion on some issues, “but I’ve had differences with councilmen before.”

However, Williams got a letter a week ago from Maxwell that said former Pascagoula councilman Frank Corder would be speaking for the “transition team” for the new council. It was Corder who told Williams he would not have a job.

When contacted Thursday afternoon, Corder said, “I won’t comment on that.”

When asked how the incoming council is making decision before it is even installed, Corder said he is just helping the new council members get acclimated to the processes of city government, and he’s there to help them learn.

The first council meeting would be when the council votes on appointees like city attorney, city judge, city manager and other positions.

Williams is something the council will have to vote on on July 5, Corder said.

New Burrow law firm

Meanwhile, newly elected Councilman Burrow announced early Thursday that he will leave the law firm of Heidelberg, Steinberger, Colmer & Burrow to satisfy ethics and conflict of interest questions that Williams brought up during his campaign for Ward 3.

And the law firm sent a statement late Thursday that James Colmer also will leave the firm and set up a separate practice to solve the possible conflict of interest issue of his wife, newly elected Councilwoman at-large Jennifer Colmer.

Burrow said in his statement to the media 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 manager position and the elimination of another position, the Sun Herald has learned.

Jennifer Colmer told the Sun Herald via text on Thursday: “The voters of Pascagoula chose me to serve as their councilwoman at-large, and I will serve in this position so that I can work for the betterment of my hometown.”

She said Burrow’s decision to resign from the law firm was his own and she would have no conflict either, when she takes office.

What happened?

During the recent campaign, City Attorney Williams went to the Mississippi Ethics Commission with what he believed was a conflict of interest for Burrow and 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 Jennifer 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. Possible ways around it, the commission said, would be to have the law firm stop representing JCUA, have Burrow and James Colmer leave the firm or 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. And the firm said Colmer was leaving praising their “tremendous sacrifice at this stage of their careers” for the benefit of public service.

Questions might linger

Burrow said that even though he disagreed with the ethics commission opinion, questions about the opinion might 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.”

Burrow 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.”

He 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.

Williams told the Sun Herald that he plans to remain as city attorney until July 5. He said there were no plans to appoint an interim.

“My shift will end at 5 p.m. on July 5.”