A mandate that City of Aiken employees limit their electronic communications with City Council was lifted during a special called work session with department heads on Monday.

Apparently the policy was so sweeping that the City email system had been set up to block employees from easily communicating with Council electronically.

City officials said they weren’t sure specifically when the email blocking started, but said it took place at the direction of former City Manager Richard Pearce, who resigned on Friday.

Acting City Manager Stuart Bedenbaugh said he was focusing on the future and building open and free lines of communication between all “members of the team.”

Under the Council-Manager form of government, City employees are under the direction of the city manager – not Council.

By law, Council is also barred from directing City employees – a direction Councilman Dick Dewar said he understood, just that Council members need to be able to communicate with employees.

“We’ve given that directive starting tomorrow (today),” Bedenbaugh said.

He said he wasn’t sure why the limits were put in place and didn’t wish to speculate.

This revelation came out during the work session called before the regular Council meeting.

The meeting was called so City Council could speak directly to City department directors following the departure of Pearce last week.

Each Council member went around the room thanking department heads, from Public Safety Chief Charles Barranco to Public Works Director Tim Coakley, Engineering and Utilities Director George Grinton, Human Resources Director Alicia Davis and Director of Finance Kim Abney.

Councilman Reggie Ebner said he believes City employees and department heads can handle comments from Council or anyone in the city.

“I applaud all of you, (department heads),” Ebner said. “There are a lot of good opportunities to work. ... I support Stuart and all the staff and what they’re doing.”

Mayor Fred Cavanaugh echoed that sentiment.

“... I don’t know of any city that has a better staff than we do – and they’ve shown it,” Cavanaugh said. “Regardless of the shift, no one likes to go through, we will persevere.”

Bedenbaugh told Council he and staff are committed to doing their jobs professionally in the spirit of openness and transparency.

“Effective now, whatever happened in the past, we’re just coming to move forward,” Bedenbaugh said. “Today is a new day, and so is tomorrow. We’re looking forward to working for this great place we call Aiken.”

In other business, Council unanimously voted to carry over both second readings regarding the hearing of an ordinance to set the millage rate and to approve the new 2014-2015 budget.

Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.