Officials: Session not attempt to oust Reale

James Island Election Commission Chairwoman Toni Reale leads commission members Loretta Rhodes and Nathan Johnson back from an executive session Tuesday night.

JAMES ISLAND -- Was it or was it not an attempt to oust the head of the town's election commission?

James Island officials insisted after Tuesday's election commission meeting that it was not.

But commission Chairwoman Toni Reale and many of the 20 or so town residents and media representatives in attendance thought it was. With her personal attorney seated in the front row, Reale announced at the meeting's start that she wasn't going to acquiesce to Mayor Mary Clark's demands and turn in a resignation.

Then the commission entered a 20-minute executive session, for which the meeting agenda listed "commissioner withdrawal/revoking of appointment" as one of two items for which legal advice would be offered. After the closed-door session, Reale said she saw no reason to act on the next agenda item: "election of chairman."

"I do not see a vacancy, so I will continue on," Reale said.

Clark, who was in her office in the same building during the meeting, said afterward she was unaware that it was scheduled. She said she still wants Reale off the commission for public comments Reale made to Town Council on April 20.

At that meeting, Reale questioned the propriety of a contract council awarded to Clark's son, Julius Clark. Soon afterward, Clark sent a letter to Reale calling the comments ill-informed and insulting to the town, and demanding Reale's resignation.

Reale's comments revealed she is not without bias, claimed Clark, who has filed for re-election. She will be opposed by at least two other candidates, Bill Woolsey and Warren Sloane. The filing period ends at noon Friday.

Clark said she did not watch the Tuesday meeting on the building's closed-circuit audio/video system and said she did not attend the executive session that was held in a room near her office. She also denied having had anything to do with preparing the commission meeting agenda.

Town Consultant Roy DeHaven later said he and town Clerk Frances Simmons wrote the agenda, but maintained the references on it to a new chairman were not about Reale.

DeHaven said one of the other two members of the commission wants to step down. He would not say which of the two -- Loretta Rhodes or Nathan Johnson -- inquired about leaving.

DeHaven said the matter has been worked out and the commissioner who wanted to leave will stay through elections in August. He said he feared that if a commissioner leaves, and then Reale is removed or resigns, the town would have just one commissioner. DeHaven said he sat in on only part of the executive session, and said Reale wasn't pressured to resign, "as far as I know. But I was only in for part of it."

Prior to the meeting, DeHaven sent to Reale an S.C. attorney general's opinion regarding appropriate political behavior for members of county and municipal election commissions.

Reale's attorney, Armand Derfner, said privately he's defending Reale's constitutional rights. Although Reale's public comments may have riled Clark, Reale had every right to make them, Derfner insisted. He maintained that as long as Reale performs her duties "faithfully, impartially and fairly," she can remain on the commission.

"We've got a First Amendment in this country," Derfner said.

Clark would not rule out the possibility that town council might be asked to consider removing Reale.