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Your right to know

Posted: July 9, 2018 2:28 p.m.
Updated: July 10, 2018 1:00 a.m.

Readers will notice a story today about our continuing coverage of the Sam Connell case and issues associated with it.

During the course of our coverage, we learned that Ms. Connell was paid some $22,000, which Kershaw County officials described as a “severance package.” This was made at her request, allegedly due to sexual harassment she says she endured while employed with the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office.

We understand that not only is such a course of action legal and commonplace, in most cases, it’s far less expensive and far more expedient for organizations to settle quietly -- regardless of the merits of the allegations -- rather than risk far greater expense in litigation. Generally (as is the case here), the organization agrees to pay a sum in exchange for the person agreeing to drop whatever allegations they are making and agreeing not to sue, or even further discuss, those allegations.

Fair enough. But we believe you have the right to know whether this is a one-time incident or if the county has made similar payments and under what conditions, which is why we requested further information on severance packages paid out to former employees within the past 10 years.

What we meant by that -- and what we believe most reasonable people would also take that to mean -- is whether any employee has been given a payout beyond what is normal and coincidental to leaving regular employment. We don’t care what it’s called; we want to know if it happened and why.

The county has told us it has provided the information within the parameters of our request and if we seek further information, we should file a separate FOIA request, which we have done.

We’re not trying to be onerous, frivolous or sanctimonious. We’re not concerned with vacation time someone cashes out nor are we concerned with such things as worker’s compensation or unemployment benefits. That’s another investigation for another day.

We also don’t believe it’s necessary to have to spell out what we mean in a whole new request when we believe the county itself has already used the term “severance package” as an all-encompassing description/definition of out-of-the-ordinary payments/situations. But, so be it.

If it turns out no such incidents have occurred, then great, thanks for running a tight ship, and why didn’t you just say so?

But if there have been other incidents, then we believe a serious and thorough re-examination needs to take place. We also believe that dragging out the inquiry process does nothing but cast the county in an extremely poor light.

Some might even say shadow.

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