Manning mayor says committee member list was ‘administrative error’

Item received list in FOIA request; Group to hear grievance filed by fired police chief Thursday


MANNING – Manning Mayor Julia Nelson said a document detailing the members of a committee set to hear a case from fired police chief Blair Shaffer Thursday was wrong and given to The Sumter Item in a FOIA request with an “administrative error.”

Nelson said the information provided to The Item in the state Freedom of Information Act request listing the names of the city’s Grievance Committee and their term expiration dates should have listed Carroll Harrington’s tenure as ending on June 30, 2018 instead of Dec. 31, 2018.

The mayor also said the Grievance Committee is comprised of five members with one-third of the members replaced yearly. Referring from the city’s policies, Nelson said the committee does not include an alternate.

One-third of a five-member committee would mean 1.67 committee members are replaced annually.

According to a list of the City of Manning Municipal Grievance Committee members given to The Item with more than 70 pages from a FOIA request about the firing of Shaffer, the Public Safety Committee that approved the firing and other related city groups, the members are: Carroll Harrington, whose term expires on Dec. 31 of this year; James Pringle, whose term expires June 30, 2019; Edward Pompey, Mitch McElveen and alternate Donna Hodge, whose terms June 30, 2020; and Jason Montgomery, whose term expires on June 30, 2021.

Nelson added that Hodge, from the city’s Public Works Department, had been serving as alternate and that she may be appointed to fill an expired term.

A motion was made and seconded Wednesday to appoint Hodge to the committee with her term expiring on June 30, 2021.

Mayor Pro-tem Sherry Welle and all five of the other city council members – Clayton Pack, Ervin Davis Sr., Julius Dukes Jr., Diane Georgia and Johnny Gordon – voted unanimously to approve Hodge’s appointment.

From opening gavel to the vote to adjourn, the special called meeting that was convened to appoint a replacement for Harrington lasted four minutes.

Hodge will serve along the remaining four members of the committee. McElveen is the fire chief for Manning. Pringle is a firefighter and reserve police officer. Montgomery is the municipal clerk of court.

The committee will convene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 2 to hear from Shaffer. He was fired on July 12 by the city’s Public Safety Committee, citing “complaints of inappropriate and unprofessional behavior displayed by you toward other city employees and officials” as one of three reasons he was terminated.

His termination letter was among the documents obtained by The Item through its FOIA request.

The committee, which consist of Mayor Nelson, Mayor Pro-tem Welle and Councilman Pack, also raised concerns about Shaffer “yelling and speaking in harsh tones to a city council member during a private meeting and raising your voice at a judicial officer.” The committee said “such behavior is not in line with the city’s professional standards.”

In his termination letter, the committee listed Shaffer’s failure to follow the police department’s policy on promotions during a recent promotion of officers to the rank of sergeant as another reason for his termination.

In the termination letter that was signed by Nelson, she said, “as the Chief of Police, you are the most visible spokesman for public safety both inside and outside the department. This role requires that you demonstrate professional behavior at all times and comply and enforce both city and department policies. Your conduct best resulted in the committee’s lack of confidence in your ability to perform your duties in the best interests of the city with justifies the immediate termination of your employment.”

While the PSC listed these reasons for firing Shaffer, none of those reasons or any letters challenging Shaffer’s ability to lead the city’s police department were included in the 70-page plus copy of his personnel file that was included in the July 19 FOIA receipt of information from Manning officials.

In remarks following an executive session at a July 23 city council meeting, Nelson called Shaffer a “good man” and called his firing “an unfortunate matter.”

The decision on whether Shaffer’s firing was justified, including a question raised by The Item about whether the amended ordinance giving the Public Safety Committee the power to fire him was first read in executive session, which is a violation of state FOIA law, now rests with a five-member committee of his peers. Should the Grievance Committee rule in Shaffer’s favor, the matter of his job with the city goes before Manning City Council, where three of those members – Nelson, Welle and Pack, who comprise the Public Safety Committee – have already, and originally – voted to fire him.

Shaffer has raised concerns about the fairness of grievance process.

“If the council votes on this, I already have two members of council and the mayor, who have gone on the record as approving my firing,” Shaffer said. “I really don’t think that’s fair.”

Manning is governed by a strong council-weak mayor form of governance, which means the six-member city council has only and final say over council matters. The mayor breaks  a tie.