Sheraton Hotel in receivership

The owner of the Sheraton North Charleston, APHM North Charleston LLC, paid $20 million for the property in 2006.

Six weeks after Charleston County Council first decided to post the names and salaries of the county's higher-paid employees online, the county administration still is working to post the salaries on its website.

April 30 is the target date.

In contrast with the city of Charleston, which posted all its employee salary information online March 19 with little fanfare, the county's attempt at improving transparency has been a drawn-out process fraught with recrimination.

"I'm just frustrated that it's dragged out like this," Sheriff Al Cannon said Thursday. "It makes us all look stupid, for one thing."

Cannon said the elected full-time officials -- sheriff, solicitor, auditor, treasurer, coroner, probate judge and register of deeds -- are not to blame. County Council gave elected and appointed officials the option of keeping their staff salaries off the county's website, and the administration has taken extra time to check with them and have them review salary lists.

None so far has opted to keep their staff salaries, all of which are public information, off the county's site.

"It's not elected officials that are dragging their feet on this thing, but some council members have made it seem like that," Cannon said.

However, a number of officials were upset when the county staff in March responded promptly to a Post and Courier request for salary information, and the newspaper then posted that information, covering all county employees earning $34,000 or more, on postandcourier.com on March 12.

Council Chairman Teddie Pryor said April 1 that he personally directed County Administrator Allen O'Neal to not immediately fulfill the newspaper's request for the remaining salary information.

"We had elected officials upset because they felt they weren't notified when they released the information (in March)," Pryor said this week. "They felt they weren't warned fairly, in time to warn their employees."

To learn just how upset the elected officials were, and why, The Post and Courier has requested all of the correspondence and e-mails to and from the county administrator and public information officer on that subject.

"Any time you start talking salary information and things people think are private, it's a little bit uncomfortable," Pryor said. "I think we're going to be more transparent once it's all online."

The salaries of public employees are a matter of public record, available to anyone who requests the information. Salaries of lesser-paid employees are to be available to the public in ranges.

Some governments like the city of Charleston have eliminated the need for requests by posting online the names, positions and salaries of employees. When the city posted all of its employee salaries online, the issue was not even mentioned at a City Council meeting.

The state posts the names, positions and salaries of all employees earning $50,000 or more on its website. Dorchester County posts positions and salaries above $50,000, but not employees' names. And many governments post no salary information online.

In Charleston County, it was Councilman Paul Thurmond who proposed posting employee salaries online.

"My take on it is, we are creating more transparency," he said this week. "I was ecstatic to see the city of Charleston follow our lead, and I hope more governments do that."

Thurmond, who is also a congressional candidate, said he's not concerned about the time between council's initial vote and the date the information is set to be posted online.

"It's always a balancing act between making sure people know what you're doing and getting information out in a timely manner," he said.

Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association, said it's disappointing that the county is taking seven weeks to fulfill the newspaper's request for information that is clearly a matter of public record.

"Unless there's some legitimate reason for why it's taking so long, you could make an argument about minimum cost or delay," he said, referring to a provision of the state Freedom of Information Act.

The act states that it "must be construed so as to make it possible for citizens, or their representatives, to learn and report fully the activities of their public officials at a minimum cost or delay to the persons seeking access to public documents or meetings."

"You could argue that seven weeks is too long," Bender said.