'We are not working in the Trump Administration,' councilwoman says during vote to fire county admin

Gerald Seals (Source: Newberry College)
Gerald Seals (Source: Newberry College)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Richland County Council meeting turned heated Tuesday night as council members voted 6 to 5 to terminate the contract of a council administrator and appoint an acting administrator.

Councilman Norman Jackson moved to terminate administrator Gerald Seals' contract immediately and install Brandon Madden as the acting administrator.

The move came late Tuesday night and tossed what appeared to be a productive council meeting into chaos. It also moved Councilwoman Dahli Myers to speak out against the loss of dignity during the debate.

"I'm not speaking for or against any administrator in that chair," Myers said. "I am speaking for the dignity of this council. I am shocked. Shocked that we would treat any employee from the custodian to the most senior this way. It embarrasses me. As a professional, I have never seen anything in my life this outrageous, and I'm speaking for me. Even assuming we had the worst administrator on the planet, this is not the way you handle a professional. We are not working in the Trump Administration."

Jackson's move appeared to stun members of the council, including Chairwoman Joyce Dickerson, who attempted to rule Jackson's motion as out of order because the motion had not been discussed 24 hours in advance. Jackson called an immediate point of order, saying he had the right to make that [the] motion of the council had previously discussed Seals' contract in executive session.

An item on county council's agenda included discussing two "personnel matters," but Dickerson said that item had nothing to do with Seals' contract. Jackson pushed to make that item about his contract.

Councilman Jim Manning interjected to clarify the situation and pressed the county's attorney on if Seals' contract could even be discussed. Dickerson jumped in to say that those personnel matters were related only to Seals' job evaluation.

"That's exactly what my personnel matter was all about, and my other matter was to get human resources to help us find the process," Dickerson said. "These were the two items that I put under my agenda under The Chair's Agenda and had nothing to do with this particular motion, so in my opinion, this motion is out of order."

Dickerson and Jackson then exploded into a shouting match over whether or not the motion was valid and what came out of the previous executive session.

"That motion did not come out of executive session," Dickerson said.

"You may not like it," Jackson interjected.

"It did not come out of executive session, but that was not what we discussed in executive session," Dickerson continued.

"What we discussed was that administrator," Jackson said.

Dickerson moved forward with her argument that what was discussed in that session was Seals' evaluation. The debate broke down further from there with Jackson saying what he said could be offered as a substitute motion.

The county's attorney agreed but said it was up to Dickerson on if it was valid. She moved to push it out of order.

"You can't [move it out of order]," Jackson said. "I did," Dickerson said as she slammed her gavel.

The discussion continued with volleys being tossed back and forth between the county's attorney, Jackson, and several other council members. In the end, Dickerson's motion to move the vote out of order was challenged and she accepted it.

Dickerson pressed that Seals had never even been properly evaluated.

"It's obvious that what transpired was going to take place, and it is my opinion that we have never evaluated this administrator," Dickerson said. "We have never given him any reason to terminate him. His evaluation was due in December and we failed to evaluate him in December to that he will at least know what the expectations of this council are for him and he - right now for us to come out here tonight with him not being present and to do a coup because of you know, some probably personal things that may or may not agree with you."

Dickerson said several council members' actions against Seals had been "pathetic."

Still, council voted in favor to terminate Seals.

Even after the vote, the contention continued as council members even fought over who would be the one to inform Seals of his termination.

"I'm gonna tell you like this," Dickerson said to Jackson. "I'm not going to do it. You handle it."

In an interview Wednesday with WIS, Councilman Norman Jackson said Seals was a poor leader who led by fear and intimidation.

"Well, his attitude was like it's his way or no way, right? He makes that decision, and he just doesn't tell us. And as councilmembers we can't tell him what to do. We hired him, and of course, we allow him to do his job, but you have to be respectful," Jackson said.

Jackson said the now-former administrator kept county council in the dark on important topics. He doesn't classify what happened as a coup, and he said the sudden termination won't bring down employee morale. It'll actually improve it, Jackson said.

In the interview, Jackson also said Seals hired some unqualified people and even dozed off in a recent council meeting. Jackson said the county's aggressive Renaissance—plan to renovate and shuffle county office space—won't be affected by the sudden leadership change.

Councilman Chip Jackson doesn't share that same optimism.

"We might have another 6-5 vote to bring that back up for discussion, and if it does, then it may fall itself on the chopping block the same way and be terminated the same way Administrator Seals was last night," he said. "I'm sure some would say, 'No, no, no. That'll never happen.' Well, I don't know if it'll ever happen. I didn't think – 11 o'clock last night – we would have made a decision in a quick moment to fire the chief administrator of our county either, but that happened."

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