Without administrator, county is at risk of violating state law

WINNSBORO – Four days after being offered the job, Gerald Seals is out as Fairfield County’s interim county administrator.

Now Fairfield County is at risk of violating state law if an interim or permanent administrator isn’t installed by June 4.

On Monday night, after discussing Seals in executive session, Fairfield County Council voted 7-0 to withdraw his employment offer.

That makes Seals the second candidate in seven days to be offered the position only to depart almost immediately.

It also throws into doubt exactly who will be in charge after the sitting administrator and deputy administrator depart in June.

County Administrator Jason Taylor said Fairfield doesn’t have a formalized line of succession, noting it’s a violation of state law for a county to operate without an administrator.

Section 4-9-620 of state law states the following: “The council shall employ an administrator who shall be the administrative head of the county government and shall be responsible for the administration of all the departments of the county government which the council has the authority to control.”

Both Taylor’s and Johnson’s last day is June 4.

On Monday night, Council Chairman Moses Bell read a prepared statement prior to the vote to withdraw the offer to Seals.

“We consider the leadership approach of candidates to work in our county. Since the time of our vote, the council has learned more about Mr. Seals’ approach to leading county government,” the statement said.

“While we respect Mr. Seals’ knowledge and experience in county government, we do not believe that his approach would be compatible with Fairfield County at this time,” Bell continued. “We wish him well and we will continue our search.”

Council adjourned a short time later without any apparent plans to hire an interim administrator.

Bell didn’t specify exactly what made Seals incompatible with Fairfield County.

“Tell the Truth”

The statement that Bell read was far more measured than remarks he and other council members made before executive session.

Councilman Doug Pauley partially blamed Councilman Mikel Trapp and Bell for the county’s inability to secure an interim administrator.

Pauley said he thought the interim post should go to Laura Johnson, the departing deputy county administrator. But he said Bell and Trapp quashed efforts to hire her due to political considerations.

“They did not want her because they could not control her,” Pauley said. “When will we stop running around with no plan for hiring a new administrator? We need to be moving forward but we are definitely moving backwards.”

Bell didn’t deny Pauley’s assertions.

Instead, he lashed out at Pauley for disclosing private council discussions [about what Bell and Trapp had said concerning hiring Johnson in executive session) and accused him of fomenting division.

“The only reason Mr. Pauley said what was discussed in executive session is because he wants to stir up everybody,” Bell said. “Now that was uncalled for what he did, but that’s okay. He wants to make sure everybody in the community gets all riled.”

Bell’s fury broadened to address concerns raised by council members Clarence Gilbert and Neil Robinson.

Gilbert wanted the county to ask the S.C. Department of Commerce to appoint an independent review panel to ensure that funds appropriated from the recent Dominion Energy settlement are spent properly.

Robinson questioned the earlier vote to erect a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. or similarly historical figure on the new county administration building property. He thought any monument should be located at the Fairfield High Alumni Building, and that the statue should honor a prominent local citizen, such as Kelly Miller.

Bell pushed back on those and other criticisms.

“All of this stuff is just something to make sure this county can’t move forward. They just want to undermine,” he said.

Bell went on to claim that when Robinson was council chairman, he ignored Bell’s suggestions regarding a name for the statue. Robinson disputed Bell’s claims.

“Tell the truth. Tell the truth,” Robinson said. “Tell the entire story, Mr. Bell.”

How Fairfield got here

Earlier, the council heard from Ridgeway resident Randy Bright, who called out the council for a lack of planning in its quest to hire an interim administrator.

“The procurement of a new administrator has gone awry because of no real plans,” Bright said. “Five months ago, the entire county knew that we were going to have to find a new administrator.”

Seals is at least the third candidate receiving serious consideration for the position of interim administrator in recent weeks.

On May 17, the council voted to offer the position to Jim Rex, a former S.C. Superintendent of Education and Lake Wateree resident.

Rex declined to accept the position the following day. He cited the divided council—a council that routinely votes 4-3 on major issues— and a county in turmoil as driving his decision.

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

Before Rex, the council had seriously considered a former Midlands area administrator, who was never publicly named, but ultimately decided against moving forward.

In the past, the candidate had faced complaints of sexual harassment in a previous position, from which he ultimately stepped down, according to public records reviewed by The Voice.

Meantime, Monday night’s meeting was the last council meeting for County Administrator Jason Taylor and Johnson. Both are leaving their posts in June.

Taylor has accepted a position to serve as the Winnsboro town administrator. Johnson is retiring.

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