Aiken City Council will receive outside legal advice today in an employment-related discussion that targets at least one of the top three members of City Manager Richard Pearce’s administration.
Council announced late on Monday it will hold a special meeting at 5:30 p.m. today and expects to move immediately into executive session. Once behind closed doors, Council members will privately discuss the “employment, appointment, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline or release of an employee regulated by City Council.”
Under the Council-Manager form of government in South Carolina, the only City employees under the direct regulation of the City Council itself are City Manager Richard Pearce, Solicitor Paige Tiffany and Attorney Gary Smith. All other City employees work directly for Pearce.
The Council met privately, excluding all City staff as well, for three hours during a similar special meeting last Thursday. In an added wrinkle, the meeting notice issued on Monday states the Council will also “receive legal advice where the legal advice relates to a pending, threatened or potential claim or other matters covered by attorney-client privilege.”
The Aiken Standard has learned the Council will get that advice from local attorney James M. Holly. Holly was Aiken City attorney from 1990 to 1999 and Aiken County attorney from 2007 to 2010. In 2010 he was appointed chief of staff for the office of S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom. Holly’s legal career has largely focused on government and municipal law.
The meeting notice goes on to say Council may come out of executive session and vote to enter a contract for legal services related to the personnel matter.
Council members have repeatedly refused to elaborate on the topic of the meetings and none would confirm or deny whether recent controversy surrounding Pearce had anything to do with it.
Pearce said on Friday that other than what the notice stated, he has no knowledge of what went on in the meeting last week, only that no action was taken.
Pearce has had an, at times, openly combative relationship with Council members Dick Dewar and Reggie Ebner since his appointment to the post in December 2011. Recently, he was more broadly under fire after the lengthy cleanup of debris stemming from February’s Winter Storm Pax.
The Aiken Standard filed a Freedom of Information Act request, also known as an FOI, with Pearce and other City officials in April after receiving varied accounts about why S.C. Department of Transportation contractors were not seen inside City limits.
Within the contractor community, some said the delay in cleanup was largely caused because Pearce preferred to use only City crews to clean up debris caused by the ice storm. At various times, Pearce denied that accusation, and only pointed to the lack in cleanup as a miscommunication.
A second group of FOI requests were also issued to SCDOT representatives Resident Maintenance Engineer Bobby Usry, Communications Director Pete Poore and Chief Engineer for Operations Leland Colvin.
Since April, the Aiken Standard has published accounts from all Council members – some confidently siding with Pearce, and others voicing their concern and acknowledgment that Pearce did not give all the facts.