County Interviews Consultant for Temporary Top Spot

FAIRFIELD – With the resignation of former County Administrator Phil Hinely three weeks old, County Council spent nearly three hours in executive session during a special called meeting last week to “interview a potential candidate for Interim County Administrator,” according to the July 11 agenda. Although County policy EP-1 requires that all job vacancies “will be publicized in a job vacancy announcement,” the County Administrator position has not, to date, been so posted. Monday night, following another marathon executive session, Council Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) said the Council’s bylaws provide for superseding County policy in emergency situations. Being without an administrator, Ferguson said, was just such a situation.

“We’re juggling 50 things a day,” Ferguson said Monday night.

Sources confirmed this week that Council interviewed J. Milton Pope, a principal with Parker Poe Consulting of Columbia, during the July 11 executive session for the Interim County Administrator position, but Monday night Ferguson said no more candidates would be interviewed. Instead, he said, Council has shifted its focus to bringing in a consultant to bridge the gap between the vacancy and hiring a full-time Administrator. Prior to making a full-time hire, Council plans to review their Administrator contract to “address some deficiencies,” Ferguson said. After the contract is reviewed, Ferguson said a national search would be conducted for an Administrator, “to get the best one we can for what we can pay,” he said.

Council held a meeting Wednesday night, after The Voice had gone to press, to interview a candidate for “Interim County Administrator/Consultant,” according to the agenda.

Ferguson also said that in spite of suggestions made during the public comments portion of the July 8 regular meeting, the public would not be involved in the hiring process for the next County Administrator.

“That’s not the way the constitution’s written and that’s not the way our bylaws are written,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson also responded Monday night to the July 8 revelation that State Rep. MaryGail Douglas (D-41) had, with the assistance of State Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17), obtained an opinion from the State Attorney General’s Office indicating that Council’s policy of offering 100 percent tuition assistance to Council members, as well as their practice of paying supplemental health insurance premiums for certain Council members, was illegal [see the July 12 edition of The Voice].

“Part of me said I needed to just go ahead on and get me a lawyer and deal with this, because you can’t do for some Council members what you’re not willing to do for other Council members,” Ferguson said. “They cut the supplemental (Carolina Cares plan) because it was so high. They made it sound like we were robbing the County. We were saving the County $500 a month.”

Ferguson said that he and Councilman Mikel Trapp (District 3) had ceased taking the payments of $475 a month each as of July 9. Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) became ineligible for the premium payout upon her retirement from Fairfield Memorial Hospital last month. All three had been receiving the payments since 2009. Trapp had also been, until last month, receiving tuition assistance for his pursuit of a business degree from Columbia College, to the tune of $26,806. Ferguson said that all of the funds in question were received “in good faith,” and that there were no plans to reimburse the County. The Attorney General’s opinion, meanwhile, stated that only a ruling by a judge could force them to do so.

“I think I would have to hire a lawyer in that case,” Ferguson said.

The bulk of Monday night’s meeting was consumed in executive session, where Ferguson said Council received legal advice concerning allegations brought to light during the July 8 meeting that the County had mishandled more than $5 million in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) funds since 2006 [see the July 12 edition of The Voice]. While Ferguson said after Monday night’s meeting that Council needed more information from the Department of Revenue on how the funds should have been handled before making an official public statement, sources inside the County indicate that there may indeed have been some errors in how the funds were appropriated.

Fairfield resident Maggie Holmes brought the issue to light during the July 8 meeting, and her attorney, Jonathan Goode, said last week a class action lawsuit may be in the offing if the County cannot rectify the situation.

Voters in Fairfield County approved the tax in 2005, Goode explained last week, with 100 percent of the funds to be used for property tax relief.

During this year’s budget session, Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson District 2) said $2.5 million in LOST funds enabled Council to lower the millage rate this year by nearly 9 mills.

“We were told we were using half of that money this year and half next year,” Robinson said last week.

But the money cannot accumulate from one year to the next, Goode said, according to what Fairfield voters passed in 2005.

“We’ve got a little more digging to do,” Goode said, “but if the County can’t make this right, then we’ll file a class action lawsuit. There’s no money in this for us – only for property tax relief.”

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