BALOG COLUMN: Ignoring public input yet again
Hanahan's police chief hiring process has the potential to wind up a lot like Summerville's fire chief hiring process, and that's not a good thing.
In both cases, city staff worked to narrow a pool of applicants.
In Hanahan, that group of 10 was further narrowed to six at a council workshop Wednesday night. In Summerville, the pool went straight from 88 to the five candidates from which the new chief was ultimately hired.
Neither involved public input.
Now, in Hanahan, candidate interviews are set for Wednesday and Thursday, with a possible council vote Thursday immediately after the last interview.
Once again, the public stands to be left out of the process.
Freedom from input
State law requires public bodies to release the names of "not fewer than three" final candidates.
Summerville leaders did release the names and resumes of their pool of five candidates.
After they made their hire. After first refusing to release the information.
The law is a little weird on this point. Essentially, Hanahan should release the names if asked, but the law doesn't force them to automatically release the names of the final candidates, South Carolina Press Association lawyer Jay Bender said.
There may also have been a, shall we say, casual approach to deciding which six people to interview. The law requires a public vote on reducing the number of candidates.
"Narrowing of the field, unless it was on the agenda, unless it was subject to a public vote -- the narrowing would be illegal."
Looking ahead to next week, Bender offered this guide for how the interview process is supposed to operate.
"If they're going to be interviewed, that meeting has to be in public, then you go into executive session for the interviews," Bender said.
So why should we care?
"The foolishness of doing it in secret is that you cut the public out of the process and you diminish the public's confidence that the hiring was done appropriately," Bender said. It also doesn't give the public the chance to interact with the candidates, and give public input.
Hanahan officials held off on hiring a new chief for budgetary reasons -- they were still paying the former chief's accrued vacation time and the like.
Now they're fiscally ready, and they want to move full steam ahead.
This kind of wait and hurry up hiring may seem prudent to the council, but it's not so great for the public.
As Bender said: "Procrastination does not justify breaking the law or shutting the public out of the process."
You might think the problem is the law itself.
Bender has a different idea.
"The culture is the problem," he said. "I used to think it was ignorance -- now I think it's people in elected positions not caring what the public thinks."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for South Carolina's municipal leaders.