Charleston County Council has been divided along racial lines on how much it should pay its attorney, Joe Dawson, for quite some time, and despite some council members expressing unease about his compensation, his pay had been left unchanged — until now.
The council voted 6-3 Tuesday to cap Dawson's salary at $172,500 plus fringe benefits, which is a substantial pay cut considering that county officials say they expect his total compensation will top more than $300,000 by the end of this year.
The decision didn't come without first drawing out some strong words from council members, particularly Henry
Darby called the situation a modern-day "economic lynching of a black man," and he questioned council members' motives behind reducing the attorney's pay.
Darby read aloud comparable high wages being paid to the company managing the county's road building program funded with half-cent sales tax dollars. He said the only reason Dawson's pay continues to be an issue is because of his skin color and that is "simply not fair."
"When it comes to race relations, this council has been and still is sick," Darby said at the full council session. "I hope the day will come when we can judge a person not based upon his color but by the content of his character."
Bostic replied, "Rubbish."
Darby said he felt disrespected and asked Bostic for an apology. But Bostic sat still.
Earlier that night, Bostic commended Dawson for his work during council's Finance Committee meeting, but he also said he thought it best for the county to bring on its attorney as a salaried, staff position.
Bostic referred to a report from the South Carolina Association of Counties that says the most paid to any attorney in the state who is employed directly by the county government is $141,795, or about half of what Dawson could make by the end of the year.
"We're grossly overpaying this position," said Bostic, who later said he hated the entire issue.
The county contracts with Dawson to act as its chief attorney. He is paid an hourly rate of $125. County Council agreed Tuesday to extend his contract for three years.
But the council struggled to reach a consensus about Dawson's pay as they shot down figure after figure. Perhaps the most telling vote was with the highest bid of $195,000 plus benefits, in which case the four black members voted in favor while the five white members voted against.
Councilman Paul Thurmond, along with Bostic and Dickie Schweers, voted against the final $172,500 that council agreed to. He said the issue is not about race but that as a government employee, Dawson is making too much. "The bottom line is: What is reasonable when we're spending other people's money?" Thurmond said.
Councilwoman Colleen Condon echoed Thurmond's comments. She said she thinks the county attorney's position should be in-house and that they should be fiscally responsible.
Councilman Teddie Pryor said he thinks what they agreed on will actually cost the county more money in the long run because he said Dawson will need to hire more outside help.