New James Island PSD Commissioner quits after swearing-in ceremony, takes it back the next day

James Island Public Service District Commissioner Kay Kernodle

James Island politics are known for drama, and the swearing-in ceremony for new Public Service District commissioners was no exception.

Early in their Jan. 12 meeting, James Island PSD commissioners began discussing whether it was appropriate for new Commissioner Kay Kernodle, who had just been sworn in, to hold the elected office while her husband, Trent Kernodle, continued to provide legal services to the district. The discussion quickly deteriorated, according to a number of attendees.

In the end, Trent Kernodle called Commissioner Carter McMillan “a pain in the butt,” and then refused to apologize. He then announced he no longer would work for the district. Kay Kernodle tore up some paperwork that was required for new commissioners, and resigned.

Trent Kernodle said he had no comment about the meeting.

After the meeting, some of Kay Kernodle’s constituents approached her and asked her to reconsider. And she did.

The next day, she reached out to commission Chairman Donald Hollingsworth and took back her resignation. “I asked him to please forgive my rash action,” she said. She said her husband also submitted a letter of apology.

Hollingsworth said he checked with both the state and county election commissions to make sure Kay Kernodle still could hold the office. And both said she could. The paperwork that she tore up hadn’t yet been notarized, so it wasn’t a binding contract, he said

Kernodle redid the paperwork, Hollingsworth said, and then had it notarized and submitted it.

The commission will have a discussion about Trent Kernodle’s service at its Jan. 26 meeting, he said. “That’s still up in the air.”

The tension between the Kernodles and some other commissioners began at election time when those commissioners questioned whether it was ethical for both of them to serve, Hollingsworth said.

Trent Kernodle sought a legal opinion from the state’s attorney general, which said it was acceptable, Hollingsworth said, and he checked with the State Ethics Commission, which told him it was acceptable for them both to serve as long as Kay Kernodle didn’t vote on certain matters regarding Trent Kernodle’s service to the district.

Kay Kernodle said the discussion took a bad turn when McMillan questioned why he hadn’t been presented a copy of the attorney general’s opinion earlier than the day of the meeting.

Commissioner Eugene Platt, who has been serving since 1993, said Trent Kernodle has done very important work for the district and for the town of James Island. His leaving would be loss for both of those bodies, Platt said. But many commissioners thought calling a commissioner a pain in the butt was unacceptable. “It’s just not appropriate for a public meeting.”

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.