Was the Manning police chief legally fired? To be determined.

Item reporter challenges potential open meetings violation during executive session


In a full-circle round of voting Monday night centering around the firing of Blair Shaffer as Manning's police chief, a 4-1 vote by Manning City Council to disband all the city's committees, including the Public Safety Committee that voted to fire Shaffer last week, was blocked after an executive session.

The vote to disband the committees was abolished after Mayor Julia Nelson and council members returned from executive session and stated the matter was not on the agenda and, therefore, according to attorneys from Boykin and Davis LLC, could not be taken up. If it had stood, it seemed likely the firing would have been voided.

Blair Shaffer was fired from the position he held for eight years and replaced with retired South Carolina Highway Patrol Capt. Anthony K. Grice as interim police chief.

Discussion on disbanding the committees was heated during the council meeting, including when Manning Mayor Julia Nelson asked to discuss the matter in executive session. The Sumter Item freelance reporter Sharron Haley challenged the mayor on the legality of holding a vote in secrecy and discussing something in executive session that was not on the agenda, leading the council to vote in open session.

What they ended up talking about in executive session was also not on the agenda. The only matter on the agenda for executive session for Monday's council meeting was discussion of the Public Safety Committee — not Monday's motion and vote. Yet, they were advised by attorneys on Monday's motion and vote and came out of it to void the vote.

Councilman Ervin Davis made the motion to disband all committees within the city of Manning, including the Public Safety Committee. It was seconded by Councilman Julius Dukes and eventually passed 4-1 with Councilman Johnny Gordon and Councilwoman Diane Georgia also voting in favor. The one vote in opposition came from Councilman Clayton Pack, who was also a member of the Public Safety Committee, which voted to fire Shaffer.

During the vote, Nelson asked who was in opposition of the motion four times. Before the final vote, she miscounted the tally as 3-to-2, when it was always a 4-1 vote.

Davis questioned the authority of the committee to hire and fire the city's police chief and why the council was not the governing body handling the decision whether to fire Shaffer. The first reading of an ordinance giving the committee the ability to fire the chief was read and passed June 5 at a budget meeting. The second and final reading of the motion was read and passed at a regular council meeting on June 18, at which Davis was not in attendance. The votes for those two instances were not immediately clear and were not rehashed at Monday's meeting.

The agenda for the June 5 budget meeting is not currently posted on the city's website.

Shaffer had been employed by the city's police department for more than 25 years. Nelson cited the "safety of our residents, guests and community" when she announced Shaffer's firing on Thursday but declined to comment further, stating it was a "personnel matter."

This remains a developing story. Go online to www.theitem.com to read more.

The Sumter Item Executive Editor Kayla Robins and Newsroom Manager Rhonda Barrick contributed to this report.