Berkeley Council fighting over who appoints clerk

Davis

Berkeley County Council's clerk is caught in a tug-of-war between council and the supervisor that resembles a custody battle in a divorce.

The matter is set to be discussed at a special council meeting Monday after committee meetings that start at 6 p.m.

“We are supposed to be doing the job of the people of Berkeley County and this is the kind of garbage that we have to get ourselves mired in,” said Councilman Tim Callanan, who requested the special meeting.

“I'm not sure what they're going to discuss (at the meeting),” Supervisor Dan Davis said. “I think obviously there's still disagreement about who has the authority (to appoint a clerk), so we need to get that resolved.”

On March 25, council's human resources and purchasing committee unanimously approved the appointment of Catherine R. Windham, who has served as acting clerk since July 2011.

During the council meeting that followed, Vice Chairman Dennis Fish, chairman of the committee, was stopped from bringing up the matter by Davis, who said he had instructed his staff not to include it on the agenda.

Davis said later he has learned that he is responsible for all county employees not hired by other elected officials, such as the sheriff or clerk of court.

Several council members said the clerk has been appointed by council for many years.

Council's rules say “the council shall appoint a person ... to serve as clerk. ... The Clerk to Council shall report directly to the Vice-Chairman.”

Additionally, according to state law on county government, “The council shall appoint a clerk to record its proceedings and perform such additional duties as the council may prescribe.”

Since March 25, Davis has brought the clerk's department under his control, renaming it the County Council Administration Office, and writing job descriptions for the three employees, a manager and two administrative specialists, one of which has clerk duties.

“He's essentially eliminating the office of Clerk to County Council and kind of incorporating it into his office,” Callanan said.

Davis said he is doing that because he is responsible for the department.

He said he appointed Windham to the full-time clerk job on March 28. Windham declined to comment.

“The title seems to be in name only,” said Fish. “The only duty is to sign the paperwork on the agendas.”

Davis said he is not eliminating the job.

“The Clerk of Council position previously was also the manager of the department,” he said. “You have to have a Clerk of Council but it does not necessarily need to be the one who manages the department.

There are two administrative specialists, and one of them has the Clerk to Council responsibilities in it. You've got to have someone to sign all the documents and what-not.”

On Tuesday, a job opening was posted internally for “manager” in the County Council Administration Office. The job summary includes posting public notices of meetings, maintaining County Council's calendar, attending council meetings and directing transcription of all meetings. The pay range is $37,600 to $43,300.

The duties are nearly identical to those in a Jan. 15 internal listing for Clerk of Council, which lists the pay as roughly $53,100 to $61,000.

The agenda for the special meeting also includes first reading of an amendment to a current ordinance that would allow council, with a majority vote, to seek an outside legal opinion. The ordinance needs three readings.

Currently, county attorney Nicole Scott Ewing has that ability.

“The county attorney gives a legal opinion whether I agree with it or not,” Davis said.

Callanan said council may need an outside opinion to clarify the clerk issue.

“If Supervisor Davis is going to battle council on something as innocuous as appointing a clerk to council, when budget comes up or something that could be a little bit more contentious, we're going to need legal opinion,” he said.



Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.

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