Former Fairfield Co. Detention Center Director says lack of consultation, concern over interviews fueled exit

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Published: Jul. 18, 2022 at 8:20 PM EDT
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FAIRFIELD COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Fairfield County’s Detention Center Director abruptly resigned last week, but she says the roots of the decision stretch back to May.

Teresa Lawson announced her exit after 40 years at the center in a letter to Fairfield County Administrator Malik Whitaker on July 14.

The letter lays out her frustrations over the following:

  • A lack of consultation on the creation of a Deputy Director position
  • A lack of responsiveness on short staffing
  • Mental health and frustration

In an interview with WIS on Monday, Lawson echoed similar themes but added context to her decision.

She referenced the Fairfield County Council’s May 23 meeting, where the council voted 5-2 to approve $55,000 for a correctional officer position and 5-2 for $90,000 for a deputy director position at the detention center.

Lawson said she was not consulted, called it “disrespectful,” and she already had an employee acting as her second in command.

“It was no previous talking to me first, and say do you think a deputy director? Because I already had a deputy director it was just called captain,” she said.

Lawson said she had less than 20 officers manning a jail with roughly 60-70 inmates. She said she didn’t need a deputy director, but rather additional manpower and resources to retain the manpower she had.

“That’s a $90,000 package, you could have took that $90,000 package and give those officers a lot of raises,” she said.

Fairfield County Administrator Malik Whitaker directed WIS to a press release from July 15 in response to Lawson’s resignation.

It read in part:

The decision to hire a deputy director, who can also serve in some capacity as a corrections officer, was made to assist with the current staffing concerns. A deputy director will also provide additional leadership and assist with developing a long-range recruitment and retention plan for employees.

Lawson disagreed with that assessment.

“You don’t need a deputy director to recruit. You need some decent working conditions, some hours that’s not so long, some better pay to attract people to come in, not to give a person a title and say we just put a band-aid on the situation,” she said.

In her resignation letter, Lawson said raises had been requested and denied.

Publicly available county records do not yet reflect the FY2023 budget, but a second reading draft shows Whitaker recommending a 5 percent budget increase for the department.

The press release also cites one-on-one meetings, which Lawson said happened. However, she said there was no discussion of a deputy director position.

Lawson said her concern escalated to her resignation in July over the Deputy Director interview process. She said the administration wanted to have the interviews at the administrative buildings in front of a hiring panel as compared to the jail (where she said interviews normally took place).

Additionally, she said her fears of nepotism were raised when she said she found applicants with ties to existing jail staff.

“You cannot make positions just to create jobs for family members and friends and expect the detention center to run efficiently,” she said.

WIS has requested the jail employee roster and position applications in an effort to verify this claim.

Fairfield County District 7 Councilman Clarence Gilbert voted against the deputy director position and the correctional officer position. He echoed Lawson’s concerns about applicant ties to jail staff.

He also lamented the loss of institutional knowledge with Lawson’s resignation.

“We lose key employees that bring a wealth of knowledge and it’s going to take a long time to replace that knowledge and things like that,” he said.

County Council Chair Moses Bell did not return a request for comment.

The press release did not state who now leads the jail, but did state:

We appreciate all of our Detention Center employees for the work they do. We will continue to support them during this transition.

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