FOLLY BEACH - If former City Administrator Toni Connor-Rooks defeats incumbent Mayor Tim Goodwin on April 1, there's a possibility that it will cost her $100,000 for a position that pays only $800 a month.
The pricey situation stems from a May 29 agreement that Goodwin, Connor-Rooks and City Attorney Ben Peeples signed when she resigned the administrator post after 17 years.
Goodwin said he couldn't talk much about the severance agreement or its impact on the mayoral campaign, but many others are talking about it. After a copy of the agreement was posted on the "Follitics" Facebook page, it drew almost 500 comments.
That pact says if Connor-Rooks returns to work for Folly Beach "in any capacity, she agrees to pay back the ($100,000) amount paid to her under this agreement prior to resuming employment with the city."
Connor-Rooks said that's not the language she remembers in the agreement. She said her attorney's latest draft stipulated that she would agree to repay the money if she was rehired as "a city administrator or any similar supervisory position within 36 months from the date of this agreement."
Connor-Rooks said that language apparently is not in the contract she signed, adding, "I was very emotional that morning. I had to be out by 5 o'clock. I was hurrying trying to get out, and I signed it and did not reread it."
"I don't see where it's really relevant," Connor-Rooks said, adding that she has not heard much feedback on it. "It doesn't have a thing to do with the issues of this race. We have to look to the future and not in that rear-view mirror back there because we can't change anything."
She has her defenders on the Follitics Facebook site. "Considering how much money she's brought to Folly Beach in her 17 years of service alone, I'd say she's earned every penny of that $100,000," one supportive post read.
Another said she wasn't sure if Connor-Rooks would have to pay the money back, "but as a homeowner that worries about paying my taxes and insurances to stay here it angers me that the city had to put out that kind of money because two grown adults could not work together."
And former Mayor Vernon Knox weighed in, saying, "The mayor is NOT a city employee. The mayor is elected by the voters of Folly Beach. She is not asking for employment but running for a public office."
Peeples, Folly's attorney, said the mayor appears to be an employee because the position receives a modest salary and gets a W-2 form and the right to buy health insurance coverage from the state, an option only city employees are eligible for.
"Of course you can contest anything," Peeples added. "There's always space for an argument."
If Connor-Rooks were to win April 1 and refuse to pay back the $100,000, City Council could work with her to modify the agreement or simply overlook it, or the city could refuse to swear her in, he said.
Peeples said if City Council were to overlook the agreement, a new question would arise: Would another Folly Beach resident or taxpayer have the legal standing to sue to make her pay? "I don't know the answer to that," he said.
Both candidates have said their mayoral race has seen little mudslinging - aside from overheated exchanges on the Follitics Facebook site. And that might be related to the May 29 agreement, too, which also says "both parties agree to refrain from making any remarks or statements that could be construed to disparage the character or reputation of the other."
Goodwin said he was trying hard to abide by that agreement. "?'Disparaging' I guess is in the eye of the beholder, but I'm doing the best I can."
After Connor-Rooks filed to run in January, Goodwin said of Connor-Rooks' departure that he had expected her to work from City Hall instead of home and that council wanted her to secure more grant funds than she did.
He said that her attorney approached the city and said she wanted to retire.
Former Mayor Bob Linville said at the time that Connor-Rooks "was forced out, pure and simple."
Connor-Rooks said then that working for Goodwin for three years "was the most difficult time of my life in my working career."
Now, Connor-Rooks said while she did not want to leave her administrator's post, she has not made disparaging comments about Goodwin.
"I wouldn't go there anyway," she said. "That's not who I am."
Peeples said if either wanted to criticize the other in the context of the campaign, they are probably fine. "That part of the agreement probably carries more moral than legal weight," he said.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
The city of Folly Beach will vote for a new mayor on April 1. The candidates say the race has seen little mudslinging so far.×
Toni Connor-Rooks said she recalls different language in the agreement she signed when she resigned as city administrator.×
Mayor Tim Goodwin said he had expected Toni Connor-Rooks to work from City Hall instead of home in her former job.×
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