JAMES ISLAND -- Municipal Election Commission Chairwoman Antoinette "Toni" Reale has rejected Mayor Mary Clark's suggestion that she resign, saying that Clark is trying to bully her.
Just as the town is preparing for elections in August, Clark and Reale are at odds over comments Reale made to Town Council on April 20. Reale asked council to reconsider the contract it awarded to the mayor's son, Julian Clark, and questioned whether bids had been advertised properly.
In an April 22 letter to Reale, Clark prefaced her words with "Re: violation of ethics and decency," and called Reale's comments "attacks against the council and me," and a violation of "a trust the town council placed in your capable hands."
Clark said she was "devastated" by Reale's comments, and maintained they prove "you are not independent and have some agenda which disqualifies you from serving."
Reale insisted Monday that her comments were "rational, fair and balanced and not antagonistic at all." Reale said she won't leave the commission and feels that Clark "is trying to bully me."
"I have done nothing wrong or illegal, and I have not committed any violations of 'ethics and decency,' " Reale wrote in her letter to Clark.
Clark said she's appalled that Reale took the dispute to the media and said council may want to remove her from the election commission.
But a spokesman for the S.C. Municipal Association said an appointed official, as is Reale, can be removed only for lawbreaking. Warren Harley, government affairs liaison for the municipal association, said he knows of no cases where appointed officials were removed for criticizing the councils that appointed them.
Reale said she met with Clark late last year about community issues and that Clark nominated her in January for a six-year term on the three-person election commission. Council unanimously approved the appointment, and the commission later voted to make Reale chairwoman.
In March, council awarded Clark's son a $49,000 contract to provide a Geographic Information System. GIS pinpoints utilities, drainage lines, ditches and other features. Clark said she checked with the State Ethics Commission before her son submitted a bid and that newspaper advertisements brought just one bid -- from her son.
Clark said she will run again for mayor in elections Aug. 3 but has doubts Reale can administer the election fairly.
"You have some agenda which disqualifies you from serving the municipal election commission. Please consider resignation effective immediately," the mayor's letter reads.
Reale insisted she will perform her duty fairly and honestly. She denied her April 20 comments were attacks and provided a transcript that she said was made from a resident's recording of the meeting.
The mayor's office and all four town council seats are up for grabs Aug. 3. Candidates must file at Town Hall, 1238-B Camp Road, between 9 a.m. and noon May 24-28, and June 1 and 2. Town hall will be closed May 31 for Memorial Day. Filing fees are: $300 for mayor and $150 for council.