MANNING – Manning’s Public Safety Committee voted to stand by its previous decision to fire the city’s police chief, Blair Shaffer, at a meeting Tuesday evening.
In comments after the committee ruled to uphold its prior decision, Manning Mayor Julia Nelson called Shaffer a “good man” and said the matter of his firing was not about whether he was a good man. She said Shaffer is still respected by the public.
“…at an unfortunate place,” Nelson said.
Nelson added that during Shaffer’s years as police chief, he has never failed to “render good service to the city.”
In a news release issued July 12, Nelson said Shaffer had been fired regarding “issues involving the city’s public safety programs.” In the release, she also stated that “following an evaluation of the city’s public safety programs, the Public Safety Committee voted to terminate” Shaffer’s employment immediately.
Keith Grice, a retired South Carolina Highway Patrol captain with 30 years of experience in law enforcement, was sworn in as interim police chief two hours later.
Shaffer told The Sumter Item after the June 12 meeting that the Manning Police Department was given a 100 percent score on its safety program by the South Carolina Municipal Association and that crime rates have declined by more than 15 percent during his tenure.
Shaffer met behind closed doors for about an hour Tuesday with the three-member committee – Nelson, Mayor Pro tem Sherry A. Welle and Manning City Councilman Clayton Pack. The committee remained behind closed doors for about 15-20 minutes before they voted unanimously in open session to uphold its prior decision.
According to the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), an employee can demand a grievance matter be discussed in open session.
Manning’s four remaining council members, Ervin Davis Sr., Julius Dukes Jr., Johnny Gordon and Diane Georgia, attended the meeting as spectators.
Issues have been raised in previous reports from The Item about the open meetings laws possibly being violated according to the FOIA. The law, which was confirmed on the record by South Carolina Press Association Executive Director Bill Rogers, states public policy, including the discussion or reading of proposed ordinances, is prohibited in executive session.
An ordinance to give the Public Safety Committee the ability to fire Shaffer appears to have been discussed in executive session before a first reading at a June 5 city council budget meeting. City Administrator Scott Tanner and the mayor have since said that is not true.
The first reading was read in open session after executive session but with no discussion after two hours of executive session. The first reading was unanimously approved.
The agenda listed a personnel matter would be discussed in the June 5 executive session but did not list the specific department, which is a FOIA violation.
After the committee meeting Tuesday, Shaffer said he will file a request with the city for a grievance hearing before the filing deadline of 5 p.m. Wednesday.
“I’m going ahead with the grievance hearing,” Shaffer said. “I will also ask for the hearing to be held in open session.”
Shaffer said he voiced concerns with the committee about how the grievance process is structured.
“If the council votes on this, I already have two members of council and the mayor who have gone on the record as approving my firing,” Shaffer added. “I really don’t think that’s fair.”
More than a dozen people from the public attended the meeting and waited the more than 90 minutes for Shaffer to present his grievances to the committee and for them to reopen the meeting and vote on the matter. The public was asked to leave the council chambers while the executive session was being held. Chairs had to be moved from chambers into the hallway and downstairs to accommodate them.
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