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Second FOIA filed for ‘severance package’ info

C-I seeks ‘post-employment’ monetary payments beyond normal benefits

Posted: July 9, 2018 4:56 p.m.
Updated: July 10, 2018 1:00 a.m.

The Chronicle-Independent has filed a second S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with Kershaw County concerning “severance packages” following the county’s insistence that it sufficiently answered the C-I’s first request by only releasing information about a $22,150 payment made to former Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office administrative assistant Samantha Connell.

The county provided the Connell-related information on July 3, but Assistant County Attorney Tommy Morgan did not provide an answer, one way or the other, as to whether any other severance packages were paid to former county employees. The C-I thanked Morgan for Connell’s information, but stated that the county’s response was incomplete, and published a story to that effect on Friday.

On Friday morning, the newspaper sent a follow-up email informing Morgan that the C-I had always meant for the term “severance package” to mean “any monetary payment to a former employee on or after their termination date, beyond what is owed to them as remaining benefits from their employment.” The C-I clarified that it was not interested in, for example, the value of any vacation days, explaining that payments beyond such normal items “could be construed as a severance package even if it is not labeled as such.”

Shortly thereafter, Morgan sent an email stating the following:

“Based upon the language of your May 11th FOIA request regarding severance packages, the county (via this office) provided to you all records pertaining to severance packages to county employees for the past 10 years.

“If you are seeking other public records beyond the original request for records pertaining to ‘severance packages’ (which it seems that you are interested in doing so), please send that new FOIA request … and the county will begin gathering those requested documents in accordance with S.C. FOIA timelines.”

The C-I construed Morgan’s reply to mean that Connell’s is the only “severance package” paid out during the last 10 years, but that there may be other post-employment monetary payments beyond the norm to former employees.

After conferring with the S.C. Press Association, the C-I determined that it would send a second FOIA request, per Morgan’s assessment. Later Friday, the C-I sent the new FOIA request to the county, but expressed that it “strongly disagrees with Mr. Morgan’s assessment. We believe any reasonable person would construe that any and all payments made to a former employee beyond the cash value of remaining benefits would fall under the definition of ‘severance package’ despite how they may have been labeled at the time those payments were made.”

The C-I went on to state, “We perceive his determination as an attempt to either block or delay the release of information the county believes to be detrimental in some manner. We believe the public will construe the determination as meaning the county has something to hide.”

In making the new FOIA request, the C-I specifically asked the county to provide “any and all documentation pertaining to monetary payments during the past 10 years to employees who have resigned, quit, been fired, laid off or whose employment with the county has, by any means, been permanently terminated, where such payments were beyond those to which they had a right as part of remaining benefits owed to them.”

As part of that information, and similarly to its first FOIA request, the C-I asked for the following information:

• The number of such post-employment payments, if any.

• The value of each payment.

• From what accounts the payments were funded.

• The position the employee held immediately prior to termination, including in which department they worked.

• In what manner the person’s employment from the county was terminated.

As with its first request, since it could potentially include information from more than two years ago, the county has 20 working days from Friday (July 6) to notify the C-I of its intent to fulfill, partly deny or fully deny its request. That deadline is Aug. 3.

If it notifies the C-I of its intent to fully or partly fulfill the request, the county would then have 35 calendar days from the notification to provide the documentation. If the county waits until the first, Aug. 3, deadline, it would have until Sept. 7 to fulfill the request. The 35-day deadline would, obviously, be earlier should the county notify the C-I of its intent prior to Aug. 3.

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