Rex turns down county’s offer for interim county administrator

Jim Rex

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County Council’s search for a new administrator is heading back to the drawing board.

A day after fielding an offer to serve as interim county administrator, former S.C. Superintendent of Education Jim Rex turned down the job.

On Monday night, the Fairfield County Council voted 4-3 to offer Rex the position of interim administrator. Council members Clarence Gilbert, Neil Robinson and Doug Pauley voted in opposition.

There was no discussion prior to vote, nor after it.

Gilbert, Robinson and Pauley also voted against motions to approve the agenda, as well as to enter executive session for a “discussion concerning the position of county administrator.”

Council members spent about 35 minutes behind closed doors.

Rex initially said he would take a week to consider the offer, but he told The Voice on Tuesday in an exclusive interview that he was turning down the job.

“I’ve decided not to accept the position,” he said. “It just is not a good fit. It’s not a good fit for me at this point in my life.”

Rex noted that the split vote and the current turmoil in the government convinced him not to pursue the position.

“The only thing that might have made me consider it differently if I had gotten a unanimous vote yesterday,” Rex, 79, added. “That 4-3 vote tells me it’s not a good fit for me at this stage of my life.”

Now Fairfield County Council is 0-2 in its quest for an interim after Jason Taylor, the current administrator, leaves the county in June to serve as town manager for Winnsboro.

At last month’s meeting, the council considered hiring a former Midlands area administrator, but to council that the candidate had faced complaints of sexual harassment in a previous position, according to public records reviewed by The Voice.

Rex’s candidacy surfaced not long after Council Chairman Moses Bell reached out late last week to the former state education chief, asking him to consider filling in as an interim administrator.

That decision didn’t sit well with other council members, including Councilman Doug Pauley, who said he didn’t learn about Rex until Friday.

Pauley said that left little time for him and other council members to adequately prepare for Monday’s interview.

Jay Bender, a media law attorney with the S.C. Press Association, of which The Voice is a member, said he didn’t think Fairfield County appropriately advertised that it was poised to offer Rex the position.

Bender said the agenda’s description of the executive session was “insufficient” because it didn’t state that anything about a potential hiring decision.

“If the council decided to take action based on the chairman saying, ‘hey, I’ve got a guy,’ then that was illegal because it was not on the agenda for action,” Bender said. “There was nothing on [the agenda] that said they were going to make a decision to interview a specific person. I think the law would require that.”

Pauley also raised concerns about Rex’s qualifications. He noted that Rex’s experience lies in public education, not county government, and said he would’ve preferred extending the interim position to Deputy County Administrator Laura Johnson, who’s also departing in June.

“He’s stepping into some deeper waters,” Pauley said of Rex. “Going in, the water is going to be right at his head,” Pauley said. “I just want the best person for the job.”

Despite not having county experience, Rex requested that he be compensated at the same level as Taylor.

In lieu of receiving county benefits—he already receives state retirement benefits as the former State Superintendent of Education—Rex requested to be compensated with a cash equivalent of the benefits that Taylor receives.

That request further soured some council members on Rex, Pauley said.

Rex also didn’t have support from various corners of the community that have generally supported the new majority four on council.

Winnsboro resident Tony Armstrong, a frequent critic of Fairfield County government, lambasted on social media the decision to hire Rex given his lack of county administrator experience.

“I’m not happy about it. The new regime – the four horsemen, I call them – is making all kinds of wrong decisions,” Armstrong told The Voice following Monday night’s meeting. “How can you break in someone who’s truly green to run this county?”

Jennifer Jenkins, president of the Fairfield County NAACP chapter, also criticized the choice, saying she would expect the person in the administrator’s seat to be well qualified. She also said Fairfield County deserves a full-time administrator, not an interim administrator who would likely serve for only a few months.

“We should not allow anyone to stay three months,” Jenkins said. “We should hire a permanent administrator right away.”

After Rex notified both Bell and The Voice of his decision, Bell blamed the split vote for Rex turning down the job offer,

“There was no reason to vote against him,” Bell said. “To have council members vote against a man with impeccable character, a wealth of knowledge and experience and skills transferrable to the county administrator role, shows the shortsightedness of the council people who did not vote for him.”

Bell said an RFP was sent out last week to look for a firm to search for candidates for the permanent administrator, but he said that could take a month or so to settle on a firm, then another four to six months to find a suitable candidate for the position.

In the meantime, Bell said he has many candidates to choose from for the interim.

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