The stage is set for Aiken City Council to disclose today the employment-related issue that has kept the body behind closed doors for several hours in the past two weeks.
A meeting notice released on Thursday indicates Council could issue a legal document and possibly take other action to settle the matter following an executive session discussion.
Members of Council will not confirm or deny that the meetings have to do with Aiken City Manager Richard Pearce, but there is speculation that he is in fact the target of discussion.
Council announced early on Thursday it will hold its third executive session at 3 p.m. today in Council Chambers, and expects to move immediately into a private session. Once behind closed doors, Council members will discuss the “employment, appointment, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline or release of an employee regulated by City Council.”
Council will also continue to receive legal advice from local attorney James M. Holly “where the legal advice relates to a pending, threatened, or potential claim or other matters covered by the attorney-client privilege or settlement of legal claims.” Council entered into a legal agreement with Holly to receive temporary legal advice during its second executive session on Tuesday.
Under the Council-Manager form of government in South Carolina, the only City employees under the direct regulation of the City Council itself are Pearce, City Attorney Gary Smith and Solicitor Paige Tiffany. All other City employees work directly for Pearce.
Smith was invited to Council's second executive session – Pearce was not. Tiffany was not present for the meeting.
The meeting notice goes on to say that Council may come out of executive session and vote to “approve an agreement that was discussed in executive session or to take other action that was discussed in executive session.”
If Council does intend to oust Pearce, the guidelines are outlined under South Carolina state laws governing the Council-Manager form of municipal government.
State law states, “If the council determines to remove the manager he shall be given a written statement of the reasons alleged for the proposed removal and the right to a hearing thereon at a public meeting of the council. Within five days after the notice of removal is delivered to the manager, he may file with the council a written request for a public hearing. This hearing shall be held at a council meeting not earlier than twenty days nor later than thirty days after the request is filed. The manager may file with the council a written reply not later than five days before the hearing. The removal shall be stayed pending the decision at the public hearing.”
For live updates throughout the meeting today, follow the Aiken Standard local government reporter Maayan Schechter on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.