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Spokesman Joel Sawyer to leave Sanford team

Joel Sawyer, Gov. Mark Sanford’s communications director, announced Friday he will leave his $65,000-per-year post Aug. 5 to pursue a job as an independent communications consultant.

Sawyer, a former S.C. newspaper reporter who has worked for and loyally stood by the governor since his first term, said his decision has nothing to do with the scandal surrounding the embattled governor.

Sanford’s Cabinet director, Ben Fox, will take over as communications director.

“It’s truly been an honor to serve both Mark and the people of South Carolina for the past 6½ years,” said Sawyer in a prepared statement released Friday.

“This has been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make, because I have and will continue to be such an ardent supporter of what this administration is working to accomplish,” Sawyer wrote. “I firmly believe that despite recent events, great things to move our state forward can be done during the remaining 18 months of this administration.”

Sanford is trying to recover from revelations last month that he took a secret trip to Argentina to visit his lover, Maria Belen Chapur. He has repaid the state about $3,300 for a June 2008 Department of Commerce trip during which he saw Chapur.

Sawyer, who has said he did not know the governor was in Argentina, told the media the governor was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Sanford has said he misled Sawyer and other staff members into believing he was hiking.

The governor and his wife, Jenny Sanford, have been vacationing since Wednesday at an undisclosed location.

Sawyer said the couple will return this weekend and Mark Sanford will be back on the job Monday.

The governor also released a statement Friday saying Sawyer would be missed.

“Joel has been a wonderfully devoted and skillful member of our team,” Sanford wrote. “The people of our state have benefited greatly from his service, as has this administration, and I sincerely thank him. We will miss him, but I join the rest of the staff in wishing Joel and his young family all the best in their future endeavors.”

Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658.

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