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Council hires interim city attorneys

Hires separate interim city prosecutor

Posted: September 27, 2012 8:06 p.m.
Updated: September 28, 2012 5:00 a.m.

 

Camden City Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to name Pope Zeigler LLC and three of its lawyers -- co-founder Margaret Pope, Gary Pope and Lawrence Flynn -- as interim city attorneys. Council also voted unanimously to name Michael D. Wright, of Savage, Royal & Sheheen LLP, as interim city prosecutor. Councilman Pat Partin was absent.

This is the first time in many years that council has voted to split apart the functions of city attorney and municipal court prosecutor.

Councilman Willard Polk noted that the need to hire interim attorneys without going through normal hiring procedures is unique. Council placed City Attorney Charles Cushman on administrative leave without pay Sept. 20 after he turned himself in to the Kershaw County Detention Center the day before on misconduct in office charges. Cushman is accused of dropping charges against an unspecified number of Camden Municipal Court defendants in exchange for “donations” into the Camden City Drug Fund.

“Pope Zeigler is very familiar with our needs and our situation. This is an emergency situation,” Polk said, adding that he expected the city would go through the normal “procurement” process if it needed to hire a new, permanent city attorney. “But this is absolutely necessary.”

Mayor Jeffrey Graham agreed, saying he believed such action “is needed at this time.”

The city has often retained Pope Zeigler for advice on the use of public finances, including advice related to the council’s proposed sports complex and the use of hospitality taxes to fund its construction.

Wright joined Savage, Royall & Sheheen in July after serving as an adjunct professor in constitutional law at Presbyterian College. He also served as law clerk to South Carolina Court of Appeals Judge H. Bruce Williams from October 2010 to July 2012. Prior to that, Wright served as a law clerk to South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Alexander S. Macaulay in Walhalla. He received his law degree from the University of South Carolina (USC) School of Law in May 2009; a Master of Letters in legal and political philosophy, with honors, in 2007 from the University of Stirling, Scotland; and his Bachelor of Arts in history and political science in 2005 from Presbyterian College.

Council notified the Chronicle-Independent it was adding consideration of hiring an interim city attorney to the agenda on Friday, Sept. 21. Monday morning, the city also notified the C-I it was adding an item to its 4 p.m. work session: an “executive session to receive information on a personnel matter.”

The C-I contacted City Manager Kevin Bronson for clarification. The S.C. Press Association’s (SCPA) interpretation of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is that public bodies must provide specific information about why it is going into executive session.

Bronson responded that, in his opinion, he had notified the C-I and public with the “adequate level of specificity.”

SCPA Executive Director Bill Rogers and SCPA Attorney Jay Bender -- who helped craft South Carolina’s FOIA -- disagreed.

“The law is clear that public bodies must state specifically why they are going into executive session,” Rogers said. “There is no exemption for ‘personnel matters’ in the law, so citing that as a reason is clearly not legal. My question is what (were) they trying to hide from the public?”

“If the city manager can point to the word ‘personnel’ in the section of the FOIA that addresses the closed session council (was) to have, he could be correct,” Bender added, “but chances are the section under which the closed discussion (was) held is 30-4-70(a)(1) which does not contain the word personnel. (That) section … authorizes closed meetings for ‘discussion of employment, appointment, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline, or release of an employee…’ The name of the employee under discussion need not be named in the statement of specific purpose, but the statement that the purpose is for ‘personnel matters’ is insufficient under the law.”

Bender said it also is insufficient based on many opinions the S.C. Attorney General’s office has provided to public bodies like city council.

When time came to enter executive session during Tuesday’s work session, Mayor Graham initially asked for a motion simply to go into executive session. Councilman Walter Long noted that council needed to state the purpose for the executive session. Graham then amended his request to add “to receive information on a personnel matter.”

While that was not sufficient based on Rogers and Benders’ interpretation of the FOIA, when Graham asked for the formal vote during the evening’s regular meeting, he stated that making the interim hiring decisions had been the topic of the earlier executive session.

After the meeting, Bronson said the idea of splitting city attorney and prosecutor duties has been discussed during budget work sessions in each year he has been city manager.

Tuesday’s work session also served as the second in a series of public meetings on the proposed creation of a board of architectural review (BAR). City Planner Shawn Putnam noted that design guidelines currently used by the Camden Historic Landmarks Commission (CHLC) were drafted in 1987 and needed to be updated. He and Bronson invited Carrie Giauque, hired to act as the city’s historic preservation consultant, to answer council’s questions about the guidelines and BAR proposal.

“My approach was not only to update them and make sure they are historically accurate, but to make the guidelines much, much more condensed,” Giauque said. “In many cities, the guidelines for citizens are only five pages, and then they make very specific guidelines for individual areas. I made sure it was easier to read, more focused, more updated. For example, new construction and energy conservation had not been addressed in 1987.”

Councilwoman Alfred Mae Drakeford said she has received comments that the new guidelines are simply a copy of the old guidelines with a few things thrown in to meet Certified Local Government (CLG) status. Putnam replied that there are some items in the guidelines that must remain consistent with requirements stipulated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

“We’re trying to make it more of a guideline document and not a historical document,” Putnam said.

He acknowledged other comments made during a recent public input meeting. Another public input meeting was scheduled for Thursday evening on the BAR ordinance itself.

Graham said that streamlining is important, but that council wanted to make sure the guidelines become a “usable document.” Long said he does not want the guidelines to be too restrictive, that he wants “people to be able to improve their homes.”

“When I look through this, I see a lot of words where it says ‘should.’ How is that going to work out?” he asked.

Giauque said the guidelines should specify what material should be used in order to maintain the historical appearance of an historic home, but that there should also be consideration of financial hardship.

“I tried to make the language somewhat lenient, but leaned toward meeting the guidelines. ‘Should’ is a word a lot of cities have,” she said.

“That’s where I’m worried,” Long said. “What if we have someone who won’t follow them?”

Giauque said that was more a function of the ordinance than the guidelines themselves.

Polk was even more direct when it came to questioning Giauque, especially of her credentials.

“I don’t mean to be short with you, but how many of these guidelines have you done?” he asked.

“This is my first,” she admitted.

“I have some experience with historic organizations,” Polk said. “In looking at these guidelines, they appear to be abbreviated National Park Service (language), but lacking in the specifics of Camden. If I’m a homeowner, I would like to know more of what is expected of me. I don’t see that here as I would expect it to be.”

According to her LinkedIn profile and other information gathered from the Web, Giauque is the owner of C&K Historic Consulting, a business she started in January 2011. She received a her master of arts in public history and historic preservation from USC in 2009, and bachelor of arts degree in history and anthropology, also from USC, in 2007. She is the recipient of USC’s Darrick Hart Award, for outstanding contributions to the field of public history; and a recipient of the Magellan Fellowship for research on revitalizing Columbia’s State/Fox Theater. She conducted that study under the direction of Bob Wyeneth, the same USC professor who led a team of graduate students in conducting a study on Camden’s African-American heritage in 2006.

Bronson said staff would take the comments from all three public meetings and return with another review for council for direction on modifications to both the ordinance and the design guidelines.

Also during Tuesday’s work session, council directed staff to forward five more annexation applications from Welsh Street in the Sunny Hill subdivision to the Camden Planning Commission.

In addition to hiring interim city attorneys and prosecutor during the regular meeting, council also unanimously approved resolutions allowing for the consumption of wine and beer during the upcoming Carolina Down Home Blues Festival and Camden Antiques Fair events; the transfer of $19,000 worth of saved funds from the purchase of 800 MHz radios for a citizen survey to be conducted in January; and accepted a façade grant application for $2,500 in matching funds for the Greenleaf Villa on Broad Street.

Paddy Bell, president of the Camden Recreation Referendum Coalition (CRRC) spoke during the public forum. Her comments are reprinted here in their entirety; she said they were not directed at Polk.

“When you say, ‘Mrs. Bell, welcome back to the podium,’ it is not with even one ounce of sincerity that I say, ‘Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here,’ because I do not enjoy speaking the public forum -- I do not like addressing you at all. But, like you, I was chosen by constituents who trust that I will serve them, represent them with integrity, good will, and dedication of purpose.

“Three or four times, however, I have asked the CRRC board to accept my resignation. Not out of fatigue, disinterest or diminished zeal, but because I am out of my comfort zone. I am an organizer -- a manager -- I can create committees, set agendas, conduct meetings, identify and achieve goals -- I can get 2,000 signatures on a petition in 10 days. But I cannot play when rules change, are one-sided or simply don’t exist. When there is deceit, manipulation and dishonesty, but me on the bench. I don’t play well with others. You, however, are masters.

“You have masterfully orchestrated a ruse of a lawsuit against the CRRC. Your action initiated a battle of legal ping-pong of complaint … 30 days, response, 30 days, counter-complaint … tying up the people’s petition in the judicial system, and all the time, your spurious ballot question had been submitted to the electoral commission.

“And you are tangled up in other legal action with the Camden Committee for Responsible Government -- all due to your mishandling of this single issue, a sports complex, that has forced two citizen groups to resort to their constitutional rights to address grievances.

“The language of your ordinance, crafted by Mr. Cushman, is another example of guile and manipulation -- an undefined project at an undisclosed cost with an unnamed third party. Could be a Rhame arena replacement, a soccer or baseball field, perhaps an assisted living center with an activity room. And who might that third party be? Gold’s Gym, TD Bank or perhaps First Palmetto? With your fill-in-the-blanks style of government, you have given yourselves unrestrained power to create anything and to partner with anyone. But, of course, the powerful love an uninformed electorate, and you are masters at keeping us uninformed.

“The third example is the shameful exploitation of the honorable YMCA organization. A group of otherwise good-intentioned citizens have been duped into mounting a campaign called ‘For the Y’ with signs that suggest YMCA endorsement -- a brochure that states, quote, “this complex will be operated by the YMCA.” Yet, nowhere in your ballot language is the Y mentioned. You have allowed and encouraged this blatant misrepresentation, despite a request to cease and desist that originated at YMCA national headquarters with the brand marketing director.

“And speaking of signs, ‘Tony Scully for Mayor’ signs have been vandalized, destroyed and stolen in this diabolical game being played that reflects a tone of win at any cost and with any means. For what? What is the prize? I guess we’ll know when you fill in that blank.

“So, as hard as it is for me in this arena, out of my comfort zone, I am obligated to honor the will of my constituents to the best of my ability, and to honor someone who believed in the cause and commitment of the CRRC, who suffered watching the challenges over many months, who jokingly said, ‘I don’t ever want to hear the word referendum again,’ and who taught me what courage was all about. For her, I will stay in the fight and never give up. I was at her funeral when I received notification of your lawsuit against the CRRC, and I promised to fight with every ounce of energy and hardened resolve to defeat you and your bogus referendum ordinance, to encourage the caring citizens of Camden to vote no, to stop council and to start fresh by bringing trust and fair play back to our government.”

 

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