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Public cries ‘Shame!’ HC council retreats to closed session for administrator interviews

“Shame!”

That’s what a few members of the crowd chanted as Horry County Council decided to go behind closed doors to interview candidates for its top administrator position.

What was announced as a public meeting turned into a private one Wednesday afternoon following a vote to go into executive session. Last week Horry County announced a special meeting would be held to interview the candidates in public.

At the onset of the meeting, Council Member Johnny Vaught called for the interview to take place in executive session. He said it allowed council more ability to ask sensitive questions without the answers being misconstrued.

Little debate was had on the matter due to a “call to question” made by Council Member Gary Loftus. This forced a vote.

The vote passed 10-2 with Chair Johnny Gardner and Al Allen voting to keep it public.

“We can truly see the personalities of the candidates we’re talking to,” Vaught said. “When you put them in front of the camera and the public, you heard the jeers, and there would be all kinds of that mess going on. It’s unfair to the candidates.”

Council Member Dennis DiSabato said doing it privately was also recommended by the South Carolina Association of Counties.

As Gardner voted against the motion, he said had confidence in the council members to handle the proceedings professionally. He wanted the public to be included.

The open meeting laws says that with a two-thirds majority of council, it is legal to go into executive session if it is not on the agenda.

“Once an agenda for a regular, called, special, or rescheduled meeting is posted pursuant to this subsection, no items may be added to the agenda without an additional twenty-four hours notice to the public, which must be made in the same manner as the original posting. After the meeting begins, an item upon which action can be taken only may be added to the agenda by a two-thirds vote of the members present and voting,” the law said.

Still, Gardner said he felt it was inappropriate since it was not on the agenda.

As they were leaving, members of the crowd were angry. Allen responded.

“Some on this council don’t want the public to know what happened,” Allen said, while walking into the chambers for executive session.

Vaught said the hope is to make the process moving forward as transparent as possible and encouraged the public to attend future meetings where they’ll debate over who will be the finalist.

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Development and Horry County reporter Tyler Fleming joined The Sun News in May of 2018. He covers other stuff too, like reporting on beer, bears, breaking news and Coastal Carolina University. He graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018 and was the 2017-18 editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. He has won (and lost) several college journalism awards.
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