New magistrate gets nod for Murrells Inlet (with video)

Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Murrells Inlet, has made his choice for a Murrells Inlet magistrate judge to replace Judge William Moeller.

But Cleary's choice - Dave Jolliff - is not the man many people in Murrells Inlet expected.

They are urging Cleary to heed their comments and concerns, especially because Moeller does not have to leave office until the end of the fiscal year in June.

Moeller is required by state statute to retire when he reaches 72, which he will do in February.

"The decision that Sen. Cleary has made has not considered the citizens of Murrells Inlet," said Bill Chandler, president of the Preserve Murrells Inlet group. "We're not telling him pick this guy or pick that guy. ... We're saying be very considerate in your selection."

A petition, drawn up by longtime resident Johnny Lewis, has begun circulating around the area asking Cleary to "abandon his effort to nominate an unqualified and ill-suited candidate to be appointed as the Murrells Inlet Magistrate and to instead nominate the best qualified candidate, Officer Steve Pop."

Pop, a Department of Natural Resources officer and area resident for many years, expressed interest in the judge's position early in the process.

But Pop said he respects Cleary's decision.

"I told Sen. Cleary when he contacted me with his decision that I would make no phone calls and that any mention of my name was unsolicited," he said. But "the people of Murrells Inlet are very tenacious and I'm honored by their efforts."

Tom Swatzel, a Murrells Inlet resident, has said Pop is well-respected in the community and residents do not understand why Cleary decided Jolliff, a former Horry County Police officer, was a better candidate.

"So far, Sen. Cleary haspublically identified two candidates [and] between those two, clearly Steve Pop is the better qualified candidate," Swatzel said.

"There's a lot of concern about how Sen. Cleary came to his decision."

Cleary said Jolliff's resume impressed him.

"I'm the only one who had looked at the resumes," he said. "I felt Dave Jolliff would be the best fit for the position."

He said he thinks Swatzel and others "want their buddy, their crony, to be appointed."

"This isn't about my candidate, this is about their candidate," Cleary said.

But Swatzel said people don't know much about Jolliff, and what they do know is a cause for concern.

Swatzel said that a Myspace page for Jolliff had material on it including the phrase "trample the weak and hurdle the dead" and said he was "a crime fighter by day and rock star by night."

But Jolliff said that profile was something he used while working as a task force officer for the Drug Enforcement Administration out of Florence.

"It was a persona," he said. "I put on a number of different personas while working cases."

He said the profile had to use some real biographical information about him but "some was fact and some was fiction."

"I'm not a rock star," he said. "I was never in a band."

Jolliff said he wants the people of Murrells Inlet to get to know him and "at least give me a chance before they pass judgment on me."

He said he grew up in the southern end of Horry County and considers the Murrells Inlet area his home.

Jolliff was a youth pastor at Seaside Community Church in Murrells Inlet for a time, said the Rev. Tim McKenzie.

McKenzie said he trusted Jolliff enough to fill in for him when he was out of town on Sunday.

"He's a wonderful man and he's very studious in the word of God," McKenzie said. "I don't trust just anybody in my pulpit."

But Jolliff only moved into Georgetown County about six months ago, which raises questions, Swatzel said.

He asked if Jolliff moved to the area solely to meet requirements for the magistrate's position.

Jolliff said that in 2009 he gave Cleary his resume after having been told that a new magistrate judge position would be created in Horry County. He said Cleary told him that that was not the case, but that a Murrells Inlet magistrate position would be opening with Moeller's retirement.

"After I told him I was interested in that position, we began the interview process," Jolliff said.

He said he wants to use the training he has from his work with the Horry County Police Department and the DEA to continue to serve his community.

He resigned from the Horry County Police Department and the DEA Task Force Dec. 31. He said he did that in anticipation of being appointed.

Cleary said he will further discuss the appointment with Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Kingstree, because he is the other senator for the area.

But he expects to submit Jolliff's name to Gov.-elect Nikki Haley for her consideration at the beginning of the legislative session.

Area residents are calling on Cleary to take a bit more time to go through the candidates.

Chandler said the Preserve Murrells Inlet group wants the process to stay open a bit longer, to ensure residents have had the chance to be heard.

"We don't see any need for it to be rushed," he said.

But Cleary said the decision is up to him.

"You're allowed to make suggestions," he said. "But it's my reputation as to who I pick."