Berkeley clerk appointment a power struggle


What was to be a simple act — naming its clerk — became a blow-up at Berkeley County Council’s recent meeting and has left the two sides arguing over who has the authority to hire her and who she would work for.

Council Vice Chairman Dennis Fish wanted council to approve a resolution Monday — already approved in committee earlier that day — to make Catherine R. Windham the council’s clerk. Windham, who has been acting clerk since July 2011, took the night off from her duties to sit in the audience with her family.

“It made sense to make it official, and that’s all I was trying to do,” Fish said.

But when Fish, chairman of the Human Resources and Purchasing committee, tried to bring up the issue during a committee report, County Supervisor Dan Davis stopped him, saying the item wasn’t on the agenda.

Fish said he had requested March 22 that it be put on the agenda.

Davis at first said he didn’t know about it, then said he had told council staff not to put it on the agenda “because it was very late and we had an issue with it and we need to have more study on it.”

Fish “strenuously” objected. He had also planned to present the committee’s recommendation to appoint Councilman Tim Callanan as parliamentarian, but that also was not on the agenda.

Fish said Wednesday he was baffled by the action.

“(Davis) lied to the public and he lied to council,” Fish said. “He denied it, then came back and verified ... yeah, he knew about it and per his instruction it wasn’t on there.”

Davis said Wednesday he has “no problem” with hiring Windham but that he recently was advised by the county attorney and outside sources that hiring a clerk is not council’s responsibility.

“All employees of the county other than those who are hired by other elected officials, like the sheriff or clerk of court ... are employees of the county supervisor,” he said. “By practice, we had regarded members of the clerk’s office as working for County Council, and it had never been questioned to that point. It was a surprise to me when I was told that.”

However, according to Berkeley County’s rules, “the council shall appoint a person ... to serve as clerk. ... The Clerk to Council shall report directly to the Vice-Chairman.” A council vote is required to change the clerk’s status.

Sources said that is how the clerk has been hired for decades.

“I feel very confident that I have the right advice and that those employees are employees of the supervisor and they’re my responsibility,” Davis said, adding that he has taken steps to start supervising the three employees in that department, including writing job descriptions.

Fish and Callanan said the issue is one of control.

Council was divided, often voting 4-4 on issues with Davis casting the deciding vote, until Councilman Ken Gunn took his seat in January. Now the controlling majority is Fish, Callanan, Gunn, Phillip Farley and Cathy Davis.

“(Clerk of council) is the only position that County Council appoints, and I think (Davis’) view is that now that he doesn’t have the votes, he has to figure out a way to ... negate any power that council has,” Callanan said. “This is the first step in that.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713.