Whitaker continues to hide employee survey results

WINNSBORO – As Fairfield County Administrator Malik Whitaker is taking heat over the quiet suppression of a highly anticipated – and possibly explosive – employee survey, council discussion behind closed doors of an audit of county policies, as they pertain to employees, appears to have run afoul of South Carolina open meeting laws.

Whitaker

Whitaker announced during council meeting Monday night that he was not prepared to release the survey and policy audit results. He cited potential lawsuits as justification for not releasing the documents.

“The survey will be released in the near future as part of a specific policy and procedural recommendation identified within the HR (Human Resources Department) audit,” Whitaker said. “At this time it would be inappropriate to release the survey publicly without addressing the items identified in the audit.”

Whitaker did not elaborate on whether the “near future” meant before or after council elections in two weeks. Four council seats are up for grabs on Nov. 8.

Whitaker read a lengthy prepared statement that gave very few details aside from saying he is not releasing the documents and stating in vague language that potential for litigation necessitated a legal review.

“I am concerned about potential claims against the county that could be raised coming from certain adversarial personnel actions,” he said, without being specific.

Whitaker’s statement included criticism of Councilman Clarence Gilbert, who had pressed for the survey to identify and resolve ongoing employee morale problems.

“While Mr. Gilbert indicated that a survey of county employees should be conducted, he did not provide a clear purpose of the survey,” Whitaker said.

“What does he mean I did not provide a clear purpose for the survey? The purpose was exactly what he stated – ‘to identify and resolve ongoing employee morale problems’,” Gilbert said when asked about Whitaker’s criticism.

“What is the purpose of any survey but to find out what those surveyed are thinking or wanting, what they are upset about? And Mr. Whitaker does not want to release that information? Throwing out words like ‘litigation’ in reference to the employee survey results is frightening to employees. Are we going to make them feel intimidated or punished for answering a survey? This is scary, not just for the employees but for all of Fairfield County,” Gilbert said.

“There’s no justification for having delayed the release of the survey results.

— Jay Bender | Attorney, S.C Press Association

“And if Mr. Bell is not greatly concerned about the secrecy being displayed here by our administrator, an employee who is supervised by council, we need to question whether he (Bell) is cooperating in this employee survey ruse,” Gilbert said.

“This survey was conducted by Talent Keepers, an impartial, professional company. Just because the survey responses apparently pose dire consequences for Mr. Whitaker or someone else; they are still public information and should be made available to the public now, not after the election,” Gilbert said.

Former Fairfield County Deputy Administrator Davis Anderson who was over the county’s Human Resources Department for 20 years scoffed at the idea that the county’s policies and procedures – whatever condition they’re in – should prohibit the employee satisfaction survey results from being made public.

“Mr. Whitaker seems to be trying to find a way to hide survey results that are apparently going to make someone look bad,” Anderson said. “But blaming the county’s policies is a stretch.

“Several employees contacted me about their questionnaires. How employees respond is not about policies needing to be updated. Their answers are about how they feel about their work environment, their pay, the way they’re treated,” Anderson said. 

“It is Mr. Whitaker’s responsibility to make the survey results public and then remedy the ills exposed by the survey,” Anderson said. “If policies are out of date, our labor attorneys, Gignilliat, Savitz and Bettis are who should be updating them. An outdated policy is no reason to hide the employee survey results, no matter how damaging it might be to administration.”

Whitaker also implied that any morale issues from the survey stem from decisions made prior to his arrival last year.

“We wanted to determine whether the survey raised concerns about the processes and procedures relating to human resources within the last few years,” he said.

Whitaker’s Secrecy Questioned

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright, speaking during public comment, said he doesn’t think the proximity of the executive session discussions to the upcoming elections is coincidental. 

“Who knows what else is in the survey because it hasn’t been released,” Bright said.

“We apparently have an issue that’s serious enough among our employees that we have to have an executive session to discuss it,” Bright continued.

Jay Bender, a media law attorney for the S.C. Press Association, of which The Voice is a member, said public bodies aren’t legally allowed to withhold entire reports if only parts of it might contain exempt material. He said there’s no justification for having delayed the release of the survey results.

“The law says that if a document or public record contains information that may be withheld, it’s the obligation to segregate that which may be withheld from what must be disclosed,” he said. “The fact that it had not been presented to the council doesn’t make it any less of a public record.”

Bender also questioned the timing of Whitaker’s decision to keep the survey results secret.

“My guess is there is some elected or appointed official who is concerned about being identified as the cause of morale issues in the county and is working to suppress the report,” Bender said. “I think the timing is supportive of my notion that someone is interested in suppressing unflattering or unfavorable information.”

Illegal executive session

One of the executive session items on Monday night’s agenda was for “discussion of one or more employees as a result of a personnel audit to the County.”

Council only has two employees that it is allowed to discuss – the administrator and the clerk to council and should not be discussing other employees employment status in executive session. As it turns out, council members never discussed any specific employees.

Sources familiar with the private meeting say the discussion was more of a general briefing of shortcomings of county HR procedures.

Discussion centered on policies and no discussion of specific employees occurred, in spite of what the printed agenda stated.

Bender said the council acted improperly. Elected officials are not allowed to stray from the stated reason(s) for entering executive session, he said.

“It’s a shame that your elected officials get caught in a lie,” Bender said. “Somebody is being protected by trying to hide this stuff, and now they’re hiding it behind a lie.”

Bender said the executive session discussion could be challenged in court.

“The law would allow a suit to enjoin them from lying in the future,” he said.

Comments

  1. Mike Bell says

    When you look up the word idiot. You will find a picture of Whitaker with the definition that stats a stupid person.

    Bell and Trapp must go, so this idiot can go back under the rock, that he crawled out from under. The only thing about Whitaker being here is that he will be leaving soon,

    Good-bye!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. jeff schaffer says

    “It’s a shame that your elected officials get caught in a lie,” Bender said. “Somebody is being protected by trying to hide this stuff, and now they’re hiding it behind a lie. I agree 100%

    Jeff Schaffer
    PS: Mr. Bell is also accusing me of lying… Ha! He is still controlling the YouTube Comments and closed that down for months when people started to comment about how poorly he represents the county.

  3. frank james says

    The time has come for us to do whats best for the people of fairfield county and that is to not vote for bell or trapp its time for them both to go and just keep in mind they both got us in the shape were in and keep in mind one did not do it without the other they both did it

  4. Lee Thomas says

    I retired as Vice President of Human Resources, after 30 years, from a very large privately owned textile company (4500 employees) that issued Employee Attitude Surveys for many, many years. The purpose of such a survey was to see if there were any underlying problems or concerns that the leadership of the company needed to be made aware and thus, we could address these concerns in order to make our company a “better place to work”. We never used this survey (no matter how negative some comments were) to punish or retaliate against an employee. We all understood that we needed truthful, honest comments in order to make improvements for our Company. WHAT IS WHITAKER TRYING TO HIDE?

  5. Jeff Greenlaw says

    I’ve been a resident of Fairfield County for just over three years, having moved here from Richland county in 2019. I voted here for the first time in 2020. Never, in my 58 years on this planet, have I been witness to a more dishonest, contemptuous, tyrannical and manipulating group of locally elected and appointed democrat office holders, than I’ve witnessed here in Fairfield County. The concealment of public records, the suppression of public input, the lack of public access to representation, the mistreatment of county employees, the misuse and questionable use of county funds and the ABSOLUTE disdain for county residents by the democrats in office here in Fairfield county is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s sad to see just how much the contempt for common everyday folks, at the national political level by democrats, has bled down into our local politics and way of life here in Fairfield County. Well folks, they say “ALL POLITICS ARE LOCAL POLITICS”. If you are unhappy with the direction this nation is going regarding, the inflation rate, the economy, the crime, the border, the needless shutdowns, the un-educating of our children and the undeniable stupidity of “wokeness”, it all ties into our “local” politics. If you want change it has to start at the “root” source and that source is “county” elections. Just as Americans will vote to purge our federal government of democrats and their failed policies next week, we need to wipe these self-centered democrats from our county councils and appointed positions. We need to rid ourselves of Bell and Trapp. We need a council that will rid us of Whitaker. We need a council that does what it was elected to do…….represent us, the voters, as a whole and not just represent those who vote a certain party. And by that, I mean Shirley Greene needs to go too in 2024.

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