By Betsy Finklea
Dillon County Administrator Tony Clyburn fired back at council at a press conference at a local church on Friday where he defended himself on the reasons for his removal.
Clyburn was removed on May 27 in a 4-2 vote with one member not voting. Clyburn is entitled to a public hearing which will be held on June 17th at 9:00 a.m. at the Dillon County Council office.
At Friday’s press conference, Clyburn went through each item and provided paperwork to support his explanation of the items. A video of the press conference can be seen on www.thedillonherald.com and The Dillon Herald’s channel on YouTube.
The press conference began with an invocation. Clyburn then took the podium.
Clyburn said he knew that he was not going to change anyone’s mind. He said he was terminated with the council presenting several baseless accusations and made a decision without giving him an opportunity to respond. He said anyone who knows the basic tenets of fairness knows just how unfair it is to be accused of something publicly and not be given a chance to respond. He said he was there to give factual information about his termination so that the citizens of Dillon County can decide for themselves the real reason for his termination. He said he was sure the public would agree that it had nothing to do with his competence or job performance and everything to do with “favoritism, corruption, and the fight for power that we all know…has gripped this county for decades.”
Clyburn then went through the list of allegations and presented public documents when available to explain.
#1: Failure to perform all statutory duties of a County Administrator form of government and any other lawful duties requested of him by the Dillon County council as required by the employment agreement (contract) terms of employment agreement (contract). See included items below.
#2: Failure to perform powers and duties of county administrator and Home Rule Act (4-9-620). See included items below.
Clyburn said the first two are “nothing more than a summary of the other allegations listed below. They are simply a way of saying that I didn’t perform my job duties as required by my contract.”
#3: Not domiciled in Dillon County. Clyburn said he was hired in November and when he got his new contract in January, he took out a year lease and made regular payments. He said it does not require one to buy a residence in Dillon County. He also said he was not in violation of his contract by spending nights out of town. He drove several week nights and several weekends to Georgetown, South Carolina. He neither moved there nor paid for any utilities. Clyburn said that is the residence of his 68-year-old aunt with Stage Four lung cancer, who he was going to spend time with because very few people could with COVID-19 and that’s when it started. He said he will continue to go there. There is no clause in his contract that says he can’t spend nights out of town. “It’s ridiculous and insulting,” Clyburn said. “The fact that they would publish this address on social media should tell you all you need to know about their intentions.” There is nothing in his contract that says he cannot drive the county vehicle out of town. He said he fits none of the different causes that could have him terminated.
#4: Not documenting work or absences from work in violation of employment agreement (contract).
“This accusation is deeply insulting. They are intending to paint me as lazy or not willingly doing my job,’ said Clyburn. “They are saying that I am not showing up or that I show up late and leave early.”
“First of all my job isn’t confined to the desk at my office. As county administrator, my job is to tend to the business of the county. There are days that require me to come in after 8:30 a.m. because of meetings, scheduled events, conferences, or just visiting offices all over the county,” said Clyburn.
He said these offices that he has visited will tell you that they have never had a county administrator that took the time to visit the office regularly or to take an interest in the well-being of those buildings and the people who work there.
He said he has explained to council many times that his job is not a desk job where he pushes papers and waits for them to give orders. He said Chairman Srevie Grice told him that when he has meetings out of town that he should schedule them out of town so he could come by the office and check in first. “That’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Clyburn. “And it’s borderline harassment.”
“Don’t be fooled. Not a single Dillon County administrator before me has ever filled out a time sheet or has been questioned about the way they conduct their hours.”
He went over the next three allegations together:
#5: Gave 2% raise to county employees not provided for in the budget (approximately $180,000 per year)
#6: Gave individual raises to employees not provided for in the budget.
#7: Hired employee to full-time position that did not previously exist and not in the budget.
“There has been a lot of fuss made that I gave raises to one of the lowest paid groups of county workers in the state coming from one of the highest paid county councils in the state,” said Clyburn. He said he had the data to show that there was not only room in the budget for these raises, but that they were going to come in about $177,000 under budget once they do payroll for the rest of this fiscal year. He said he is not under any obligation to get permission from county council on any raises that he gives as long as they come under budget. He claims that it was Councilman Grice who asked him to give out some of these personal raises. He alleges that Grice came in “screaming and yelling at Richard Gaddy (finance director) to give certain people raises.” These raises were never a problem and neither was the position that went from part-time to full-time. He said he made sure that every eligible employee got a two percent pay raise except for one, himself. He said it was about all the workers who work here and that they are very underpaid.
#8: Failed to advertise for an employee position and for the position of secretary at the landfill.
He had an email from The Dillon Herald that he advertised for the position of secretary at the landfill.
#9: Using the Economic Development Fund in budget to fund general county operations in budget. He had copies of the budget for the past four fiscal years as well as a letter from an attorney.
“This is ridiculously absurd,” said Clyburn. He said yes they used the economic development fund in the general fund as had been done in past budgets. He said the same amount used in 2019-2020 the first year that he had done the budget that he used $950,000 the same amount that had been used in the 2018-2019 budget. He said that the attorney, Brandon Norris, said it was okay to use the economic development fund for any legal purpose. “It was fine when Clay Young did it. It was fine when Rodney Berry did it, and it’s fine when I did it,” said Clyburn. The county council are the ones who voted unanimously to approve the budget which used the economic development funds. County Council approved it in three budget readings and a workshop and never said a word because it was perfectly legal.
#10: Allowed an employee to continue to receive $8,000 pay while not working after he was denied Workers Comp. He said this was done in error as shown in a memo from the risk manager. It was discovered on August 29, 2019. It stopped August 31, 2019. He said it was an error by a staff member that was corrected immediately. He said the interesting thing is that Councilman Grice found out about this because he called him that day and told him what happened out of transparency. There was nothing to hide.
#11: Paid a salaried supervisor overtime for a year. He said honestly, he “almost laughed” when they read this out at the meeting. He said when he arrived in 2018, he had been being paid overtime for about four years before he arrived, and he was the one who stopped it, and not only that, he was not even designated as a salaried employee until he changed the designation.
#12: Allowed contaminated dirt to come to the landfill without permission/had to pay to remove it. He said this is the only one of these claims that has some merit. He said they had been looking at doing a long-term contract to accept dirt from a company to use at the landfill. Council was looking into a long-term contract and wanted to learn more about the company. He asked the company to bring a small amount of dirt to see what the dirt was like. They brought three truckloads and when it was tested, we found out it was contaminated. It cost about $1,100 to remove it. “It was an honest mistake,” he said. He said the county attorney has said there is nothing improper for him accepting a one-time load of dirt as long as he had not signed a long-term contract, which he had not.
#13: Has never implemented business registration fee, or bill insurance on structure fires, both in the budget ordinance. This business registration fee was just voted in about four months ago at $20 per business. He said when they tried to put this together they noticed that state ordinance said they could not go over $15 per business. He said this was something he intended to go back to County Council with before this whole termination thing came back up. He said there is not a line item in the budget for this.
As far as billing the insurance, Moses Heyward (Dillon County Disaster Preparedness Director) implemented this back in August. He said he had a fire chief to back this up. He said that the company just has not reimbursed them yet. He said this was “flat out wrong.”
#14: Not communicating with PDRTA or other stakeholders and returning calls to Commerce.
He said this was a “flat out false claim.” He said they were trying to blame the delay on public transportation on him. He said that he fought to get council to approve public transportation, and in the council meeting in November, it was finally approved. He said, “it was Councilman Stevie Grice who refused to sign the agreement and instead tried to rescind his vote. Many of you here remember that.” Clyburn said it was Jarett Taylor from the Town of Latta, who called and hosted a meeting with Don Strickland of PDRTA, Jarett Taylor, Stevie Grice, and Clyburn where they tried to convince Grice not to rescind his vote. “He would not sign the agreement that council had voted to approve until the December meeting. This is what caused the delay in the transportation project. This is why the Department of Commerce started hesitating because they were afraid that Dillon County wouldn’t support it long term so he wanted me to guarantee that they would raise taxes which I couldn’t and after talking with council members, I wrote the Department of Commerce, the Department of Transportation, and PDRTA to explain this,” said Clyburn. He said he told them they were unable to guarantee this past the three year benchmark before the service had even started. He said the project is ready to go. It had been delayed further by COVID-19.
#14: Directed work from insurance proceeds without competitive bids or proposals and in conflict of interest (over $100,000). “This one is borderline defamation,” said Clyburn, “because they are flat out accusing me of something illegal when they actually know that it is not illegal.” The first letter he presented from their insurance carrier states that they do not have to have bids for insurance jobs. He said in Dillon County’s history they have never bid on insurance jobs, not once. He said after Hurricane Florence he decided to share the work equally with publicly licensed contractors in Dillon County. He said Troika Group, for which the conflict of interest is alleged, only received 7 percent of the work for Hurricane Florence. He said he asked Councilman Grice about including Troika Group and claims Grice said it was fine as long as he didn’t give him too much. He said Troika was considered a DBE (Disadvantaged Business Enterprise) which would make him eligible for 10 percent of the work.
He also addressed the “current budget crisis.” He said there was an emergency meeting. Clyburn said yes, they have real concerns, and Dillon County is not in good shape currently. He said they attempted to blame this on Clyburn when there are unprecedented circumstances. He said they are attempting to say it was about the raises. He said the reason they are having problems is they have not received $1,128,000 from the State of South Carolina that normally they would have received by now. He said this is happening statewide. He said they are actually running underbudget. He said it is not the council’s fault, his fault, or even the state’s fault. It was because the state was having trouble getting the funds here.
He thanked everyone for coming to hear the “verifiable truth” and ended with a question and answer session.
By Betsy Finklea