By Betsy Finklea
In a 5-2 vote on Friday morning, the Dillon County Council decided to offer a contract to one of the candidates for county administrator.
Upon a motion by Councilman Robbie Coward and a second by Councilman T.F. “Buzzy” Finklea, Jr., the council voted to offer a contract to Tim Harper upon his resignation from Marion County. Harper is currently the administrator in Marion County.
Coward, Finklea, Chairman Stevie Grice, Councilman Dennis Townsend, and Councilman Kenny Cook voted in favor the motion. Vice-chairwoman Detrice Dawkins and Councilman Jamal Campbell voted against the motion.
After the motion was made, there was discussion before the vote. Councilman Jamal Campbell said he had “major discussion.”
Camphell said they were there to make a decision that will affect the citizens of Dillon County. He said the contract was “against the counsel of our legal team and in the absence of their legal team.” Campbell said there was things in the contract that were not very clear. He said never in the history have they paid 100 percent of the health insurance for anyone, and he said yesterday talking with councilman, they were going to pay him $125,000 the last he heard and the contract now says $128,000. He said they added $3,000 to take care of this. Campbell said he thought the contract should be read so the general public will know what they are offering Harper and who this candidate is. Campbell said he is not in favor of hiring Harper, but that Harper has the votes, and he can do nothing to change that, but he thought it was “crazy to have an attorney” and go against the legal advice that we have been given by giving him a contract that is past what is considered the legal limit or suggested limit. He said the lawyer said the contract should be from today’s date through December 31, 2024 and the contract they are offering supersedes that time frame.
Councilman Dennis Townsend then made some remarks to support his decision. He said he supports Harper. He said Harper had served 16 years continuously in Marion County. He feels Harper is what they need. He said Harper would serve more than adequately and that the other applicant, though a fine applicant, was no re-elected to serve in her own county. He said “we are hiring someone who does not need a job, who has a job. He is asking for a challenge.” He said Harper wants to come to Dillon County and has shown he is willing to serve as administrator. Townsend said Dillon County does have an opportunity to grow, and Dillon County has things that Marion County does not have. He said the county has an economic developer. He said they need to task him with that job and let the administrator run the county. Townsend said as far as the terms of the contract, he understands completely that is against legal advice, but he also understands the termination of the contract that whether it is six months, one year, three years, or 27 months, the same termination goes into place and he gets six months pay whether he’s got a 10 year contract or a two year contract. He said that’s what they agree to if they terminate without cause. He said this supports his decision. He said he would love for council to have a unanimous decision, but it appeared that they would not. He said he felt like he should support his decision since it was not a unanimous decision by the council.
Campbell said clearly Harper had the votes to come, but he didn’t think they should change the method of how they go about hiring administrators because “we want this man to come and this is what he needs.” Campbell said he spoke with several councilmen the day prior, and they said this is what it will take to get him. “Well if he can’t come according to what our normal procedures are, then obviously he ain’t the man for us. I don’t care 16 years does show some longevity, but that’s all it shows.” Campbell went on to say that he didn’t see much going on in Marion County. He said it doesn’t show much but longevity about why we are going for this man so hard. It’s nothing against him personally, but I think if he is going to come then give him a two-year contract like we would any other and certainly I would also go as far to say that some we have only given a year-to-year contract. But some we want to come and some we are friends with, we’ll go and over-extend ourselves to make sure they are comfortable and they have what it takes for them to come. “That’s not fair,” Campbell said. “We need to be fair with the citizens of this county, and we need to treat everybody accordingly. That’s not right.”
Chairman Stevie Grice said “I will say this when you say treat everybody accordingly. When it’s not your agenda, we need to go by the advice of the lawyer, but I heard you tell our lawyer Alan Berry that he’s stupid and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
“You said we don’t need to keep doing things the same way, but now we need to keep doing things the same way and that’s all I am going to say.”
Campbell said if you are an attorney and I come to you and give you the S.C. Code of Laws, then of course, S.C. Code of Laws supersedes what the attorney says. Right now, what you are doing is coming and trying to make it feasible for a friend to come to this county that doesn’t offer anything to us. “We are at a pivotal moment in history to move this county forward or stay stagnant, but what ya’ll are choosing to do is to play politics and keep us held down in this county. And now we are going to give him, almost a 27 month contract.”
Grice asked who’s us. “Us…the people in this county. That’s us,” said Campbell. “Not black, not white, not Mexican, but the taxpayers. We keep saying we’re broke, but we keep finding money for what we want to find it for. I mean, it’s ridiculous,” said Campbell.
Grice then asked if anyone else had anything to say. Townsend said he would like to further his discussion because of the comments. He said you said we changed our procurement and we changed our contract, but we also complained about past administrators. He said maybe we need to change to get somebody different. Maybe that’s what we need. Townsend said he realizes Harper has 16 years experience and that is the biggest thing that we’re talking about. He said he thinks Marion County is successful, but they don’t have all the assets that we have to grow and that he thinks they are managing themselves just fine. “I think this is what this county needs,” said Townsend.
Vice-Chairwoman Detrice Dawkins said she didn’t have a problem hiring Harper because the other person that was being considered didn’t have as much experience. She said she felt that the other person could be an asset to the county and that perhaps she could be used in some other avenue such as the finance department or something like that. Dawkins said the only problem that she had was the 27-month contract because they hadn’t done it in the past. She said in two years, four councilmen will be running and who’s to say that we all are going to stay. She said she didn’t believe in binding the hands of another council. She asked if they were paying 100 percent of the health insurance. Grice said they were not. Grice said he would be paying exactly what everyone else was paying. She said if they could lessen the amount of the contract she was fine with it, but she was not about binding the hands of another council. She said if we stay and we wanted out, they would have to pay 6 months. She said that would be approximately $50,000. She said that was still money the council still did not have and she was sure no citizen wanted the council to hand over if the new council did not want Harper to continue.
Grice said a new council is probably not going to fire anybody anyway that they have not worked with. He said that’s an issue for further down the road.
Councilman Robbie Coward said they had a motion and second and he was ready to take a vote. Grice asked if there was any more discussion and called for the vote. The majority of council approved.
Editor’s Note: This meeting can be watched in its entirety on The Dillon Herald channel on YouTube.