Clinton, South Carolina – On Monday, Aug. 20, the office of Clinton City Manager Bill Ed Cannon issued an agenda for a second called meeting in as many weeks, and this one is set for first thing this Wednesday morning, Aug. 22.
In the 8:30 a.m. meeting, Clinton City Council will hear and vote on second reading on a resolution that rescinds the 2005 resolution, thereby dissolving the current Clinton Department of Public Safety (DPS).
The first called meeting to dismantle the DPS on Thursday evening, Aug. 9, held a minimal agenda, devoid of the usual preliminaries such as the pledge, opening prayer or time for public comment. All of them, however, are included in the agenda for the meeting this Wednesday, which is at 8:30 a.m. in council chambers upstairs in the M.S. Bailey Municipal Building.
Typically anyone wanting to speak to council has to sign up during the hour before the beginning of council. City offices open at 8 a.m.
On Aug. 9 when council voted unanimously to approve first reading of the resolution, no local reasons were presented by Cannon, who said “the system doesn’t work” and he read from a list of statistics provided by International and National Associations of Firefighters.
Other than “the safety of the citizens,” Cannon gave no specific rationale related to the Clinton DPS, other than the higher expense of the combined departments in the current fiscal year budget compared to the budget for the separate departments in 2004.
At the conclusion of Cannon’s five-minute presentation, council voted unanimously to accept first reading and neither the mayor nor any council members voiced any comments or questions.
After the meeting was adjourned, Cannon explained to reporters that he has been talking to council members “one or two or three at a time” so as to not break the specific parameters of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, (FOIA) or “Sunshine laws.”
“I have talked to individual council members about my concerns, and that didn’t start this week,” Cannon said.
For a council the size of Clinton’s the FOIA law allows no more than three council members to discussing city business. The state’s FOIA laws are designed to prevent all councils from conducting business designed for open session in areas outside of an official public meeting, such as city offices or public places.
When pressed further by reporters as to why he took that route, which appears to side-step the meaning and purpose of the FOIA law, Cannon reacted with angry outbursts and profanity.
The resolution will split the Department of Public Safety, currently led jointly by Robin Morse. Morse has explained to The Advertiser in the past that cross training of some officers is beneficial since it’s very hard to fully staff both fire and police departments.
However, Cannon disagreed.
“I’m going to have a full time fire department, a full-time fire chief and a full-time police chief, and if you want the bottom line, that’s what all this is going to,” he said. “Somebody that runs the department as it should be done.”
Scott Shiflet has been serving as the leader of the DPS Fire Division but one day after the Aug. 9 called meeting, Cannon hired Phillip Russell of Union County and named him as interim fire chief to investigate the department’s credentials and a video of firefighters responding to a house fireThe video was not allowed in open session but was sent to the media. The home was known to be unoccupied.
Cannon never described how he came to have the roughly one-minute video, which shows firefighters who had just arrived on the scene as they worked to get hoses unkinked so that water can be put on the fire. Cannon told reporters he felt it showed a lack of training but announced the following day that no employee of the city could discuss the issue with reporters “until the investigation is complete.”
After the meeting was adjourned Aug. 9 and before Cannon’s profanity-laced outburst, former Clinton DPS officer Scotty Peay had spoken to council and to Cannon, explaining that when Morse was hired the DPS finally began to get the equipment so fire and law enforcement could better protect the citizens. Peay said he couldn’t specifically say whether the measure was needed or not, but that council should have had an open discussion for a decision regarding such a crucial department.
Cannon said he didn’t expect to release any officers once the resolution is approved.
“Unless they make me real mad, nobody’s going to lose a job but they have to decide if they want to be a police officer or a fireman – real soon – and I don’t care which,” Cannon said. “And if they can’t live with that I’m gonna run this city, and I’m going to do the best job I can as a professional.”
For more on the ordinance and a in-depth story on the meeting, see the Wednesday, Aug. 15, issue of The Laurens County Advertiser.
The meeting this Wednesday morning is open to the public.
Below are pictured officers honored by The Clinton Chronicle and council and Mayor Bob McLean at the regular Aug. 6 meeting: Scott Shiflet, fire; Anthony Harris, law enforcement and Robin Morse, DPS Director, with McLean. Photo by Judith Brown