Council Re-Votes on Administrator Hire

Attorney: May 12 Vote Illegal

Newly hired Fairfield County Administrator Jason Taylor signs his contract with the County Monday evening following a County Council executive session. Council voted unanimously to extend to Taylor a three-year contract. (Photo/Fairfield County)

Newly hired Fairfield County Administrator Jason Taylor signs his contract with the County Monday evening following a County Council executive session. Council voted unanimously to extend to Taylor a three-year contract. (Photo/Fairfield County)

WINNSBORO (May 26, 2016) – Fairfield County Council opened its May 23 meeting with a statement of apology for failing to vote in accordance with the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) when it approved a new county administrator’s contract during a special called May 12 meeting without giving the public prior notification that they were going to vote.

The apology also stated that Council members was not aware that an FOIA request had been sent by The Voice to County Administration on April 1 requesting the release of the names and resumes of the final candidates for the administrator’s position.

Interim County Administration Milton Pope did not forward the FOIA request to County Council and also did not respond to The Voice’s FOIA until after the Council’s May 12 vote to offer a contract to the new administrator.

Council Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) told The Voice that, upon learning about the FOIA request on May 19, she asked the Administration to release the names to The Voice the next day. Other Council members reached by The Voice said they did not receive the written request and were not aware that it had been sent to the Administration until after their May 12 vote.

According to Jay Bender, First Amendment attorney with the SC Press Association, in an article posted on the Press Association’s website, “there is no requirement that a public body (Council) announce its ‘finalists.’ What the law does require is that upon a written request, the public body must make available for inspection and copying all material gathered in a search to fill a position for those persons in the group from which the final selection is made. That group may not be fewer than three applicants.”

Also at issue is that, during the May 12 meeting, Council came out of executive session and voted to approve a contract with Jason Taylor to be the new County Administrator. Contrary to a new ruling of the S.C. Supreme Court, there was no mention on the agenda that Council would take action, i.e., vote, on the matter discussed in executive session.

Bender told The Voice that the vote was illegal as there was nothing on the agenda indicating an action (vote) would be taken.

Bill Rogers, Executive Director of the S.C. Press Association, told The Voice that: “Not listing the selection on the agenda is clearly illegal and is a slap in the face to the public who might want to be there for the vote. It also casts a legal pall over the whole selection.”

When asked in an email on Monday why The Voice’s FOIA request for the information was not passed on to Council members, Pope responded that he would have to research it and get back to The Voice as to why that happened.

After learning of the FOIA request last Friday, Councilman William “Billy” Smith Jr. (District 7) told The Voice: “After looking at the statute (SC 30-4-40(A-13) and some interpretation material I found online about this subject, I think I understand the law’s intentions; and if anything was indeed handled improperly by the County, I sincerely apologize. I can tell you that, throughout the selection process, Council made a genuine effort to find and hire a good administrator for Fairfield County, which I believe we have done; and I hope nothing clouds that truth.”

The May 12 vote was a mistake, Smith said. “It’s our mistake.”

County Council completed the do-over after it came out of executive session Monday and publicly voted to enter into a “contract of employment agreement with Jason Taylor for the position of County Administrator, beginning June 6, 2016.”

Taylor’s contract is for $120,000 each year for a three-year term.

To rectify what turned out to be an illegal vote by Council
on May 12, Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) read the following statement at Monday’s meetng:

The May 12 meeting was the first meeting we had after this instruction from the court and after we had added the provision to our bylaws, and the language was not on the May 12 agenda.
That said, we sincerely apologize for these errors, any errors; we can honestly say they were unintentional.
On Saturday, one day after this was brought to our attention, we released the names and resumes of the candidates to The Voice newspaper, and after our executive session this evening we will vote to approve acceptance of the contract with Mr. Taylor.
It is always our goal to be as transparent as possible and to follow the letter of the law in all situations. I would like to make a statement on behalf of various other members of Council and myself regarding the executive session item on tonight’s agenda about the county administrator’s contract. This is something that needs to be addressed immediately.
We as a council made a couple of errors in the process of hiring a new county administrator. We have learned that an FOIA request for the names and resumes of the finalists in the candidate pool for our next administrator was made by The Voice newspaper to county staff in early April. We were never served this FOIA request; no members of council received that. Nor were we advised as to what information needed to be released.
At our May 9 meeting, we amended our bylaws in accordance with the State Supreme Court ruling that instructed public bodies to add the following language to their agendas when executive session items exist, and quote ‘Subsequent to executive session, council may take action on matters discussed in executive session.’
Again, we apologize for these errors and are now doing what we can to correct them as quickly as possible.
Thank you.