Aiken City Council met behind closed doors for three hours on Thursday after calling a rare special meeting and executive session.
The reason given for entering the secret session was the discussion of the “employment, appointment, compensation, promotion, demotion, discipline or release of an employee regulated by City Council.” No member of the Council contacted by the Aiken Standard on Friday was willing to specifically disclose what went on in the meeting. Rarer still, only Council members and no City staff were included in the discussion.
Under the Council-Manager form of government in South Carolina, the only City employees under the direct regulation of the City Council itself are City Manager Richard Pearce, Solicitor Paige Tiffany and Attorney Gary Smith. All other City employees work directly for Pearce, and he would typically be involved in any private discussions involving his subordinates.
Mayor Fred Cavanaugh called the meeting, which was attended by all of the members except Steve Homoki, who was reportedly out of town.
Council members contacted on Friday refused to elaborate on the lengthy private meeting and none would confirm or deny whether recent controversy surrounding Pearce had anything to do with it.
Pearce said on Friday other than what the notice stated, he has no knowledge of what went on in the meeting, only that no action had been taken.
Members of the Council said they expect to call another special executive session next week for further discussions on the same topic.
Pearce was recently under scrutiny after the lengthy cleanup of debris stemming from February's Winter Storm Pax.
The Aiken Standard filed a Freedom of Information Act request, also known as an FOI, with Pearce and other City officials in April after receiving varied accounts about why S.C. Department of Transportation contractors were not seen inside City limits.
Within the contractor community, some said delay in cleanup was largely caused because Pearce preferred to use only City crews to clean up debris caused by the ice storm. At various times, Pearce denied that accusation, and only pointed to the lack in cleanup as a miscommunication.
A second group of FOI requests were also issued to SCDOT representatives Resident Maintenance Engineer Bobby Usry, Communications Director Pete Poore and Chief Engineer for Operations Leland Colvin.
Since April, the Aiken Standard has published accounts from all Council members – some confidently siding with Pearce, and others voicing their concern and acknowledgment that Pearce did not give all the facts.
Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard.