MANNING - Manning's Grievance Committee sided with Blair Shaffer on Monday afternoon by recommending his job as the city's police chief be reinstated, going against the mayor and two city council members who make up the Public Safety Committee that voted last month to fire him.
"Due to the lack of notice of deficiencies to Mr. Shaffer prior to termination, it is the recommendation of this committee that Mr. Shaffer be reinstated to his position retroactively, which reinstatement should include all compensation and benefits as provided prior to the termination, subject to a two-week suspension without pay," Committee Chairman Jason Montgomery said in the recommendation, which was unanimous.
The committee's recommendation was met with clapping and a few cheers from those in attendance. Following the meeting, Shaffer was surrounded by his family and friends, many of whom have been present throughout the various public meetings leading up to Monday's decision.
"I'm extremely happy with their decision," Shaffer said immediately following the committee's ruling. "The members of the committee are city employees. They're my peers. They recognized that what was done to me was wrong. Now, I would just hope that the members of council will see that, too."
Montgomery said the committee considered the Aug. 2 oral presentations from Shaffer and Manning City Administrator Scott Tanner and the 113 pages of related documents in rendering its decision.
As the Grievance Committee serves as a recommending body, the decision on whether Shaffer gets his old job back remains in the hands of Manning City Council. A special called meeting is planned for 6 p.m. today at Manning City Hall. Items on the agenda, which was distributed to media at 4 p.m. on Monday, include an executive session to discuss a personnel matter in the Public Safety Department and the receipt of legal advice regarding a personnel matter.
The agenda does not list which department will receive the legal advice, though; according to state Freedom of Information Act laws on open meetings, it should. The agenda also lists "possible action following executive session."
Two members of Manning City Council have already voted once to terminate Shaffer - Sherry A. Welle and Clayton Pack, along with Mayor Julia Nelson, comprise the three-member Public Safety Committee that fired Shaffer in a letter signed by Nelson dated July 11. That leaves Ervin Davis Sr., Julius Dukes Jr., Diane Georgia and Johnny Gordon as the four other council members who have not voted on Shaffer's employment.
In the termination letter, Tanner cited Shaffer "yelling and speaking in harsh tones" to a city official; raising his voice to a judicial officer; failing to follow the city policies in promoting officers in his department; and asking police officers to sign a letter affirming they understood the department's "chain of command" as reasons for his firing.
The termination letter was among more than 70 pages of Shaffer's personnel file and other documents The Sumter Item obtained on July 19 in response to a FOIA request. Anything hinting at a record of Shaffer yelling at other city or judicial employees or the letter he reportedly asked his officers to sign were not included.
At the initial Grievance Committee hearing on Aug. 2, Tanner admitted he signed off on the promotions in question but that he was unaware of an internal policy from 2011 that made them in violation.
A statement from an officer Shaffer wanted to fire on disciplinary grounds was also not included in the FOIA response. Shaffer said at the hearing his firing was retaliation for attempting to terminate the officer despite what he said was Nelson telling him not to.
During the Aug. 2 hearing, Davis said he walked into the room to listen to the hearing but was asked to leave by one of the city's attorneys, Kenneth Davis. Councilman Davis said the attorney told him that should he remain in the hearing, he may be asked to recuse himself from voting when the matter appears before council for a final decision.
Manning operates on a weak mayor/strong council form of governance, meaning the council has voting authority, and the mayor only votes to break a tie.
"If I had known that Mayor Julia Nelson was in the room, I'd have stayed," Councilman Davis said. "When the vote comes to council, she should recuse herself if the vote is tied."
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