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Chapin council once again discusses town administrator, now may return to positions similar to past

Chapin, SC (Paul Kirby) – The elected leaders of the town of Chapin once again returned to the issue of town administrator at their last planning session on Tuesday of this week. During that meeting, they invited Jeff Shacker of the SC Municipal Association to attend. Shacker is a field services manager for the association and offers advice and guidance to municipalities in his assigned parts of the state. They asked Shacker to be at the meeting to advise them on what town administrators do in various towns across SC. He also brought an example of a job description for a administrators that might best fit a town like Chapin. At that point, the mayor asked him to post the description Shacker had in hand, but later backed off that idea after some discussion from the council.

During the discussion, Shacker made it clear that town leaders could draft and pass an ordinance that set the duties and responsibilities for a town administrators as they wished. The issue was, would the new administrators have all the department heads answer to that administrators rather than directly to the Mayor Knight. They also asked if that administrators would have the authority to hire and fire. Several of the council members, including Mike Clonts and Al Koon, said they didn’t think that would be necessary and it would be another layer of bureaucracy they just didn’t need. Mayor Knight also expressed concerns about a town administrators with the authority to hire or fire an employee.

Over the past four years, former Mayor Skip Wilson was much more of a hands-on manager, something he was vehemently criticized for. As a mayor in a strong mayor form of government, this was all legal, but very unpopular with the citizens. Mayor David Knight, who was sworn in January of this year, once again made it abundantly clear he didn’t plan to spend that much time at the town hall managing. Knight said he had a “day job" and wasn’t ready to work hour upon hour for the town for the small salary the mayor receives. In the past, Knight got an hourly wage of about $150 per hour whenever he did something for the town. He was the town’s attorney for more than two decades. At that point, Councilman Koon reminded Knight he ran for the job and got elected, so it was his to do. Koon later repeated that again.

Over the past four years, Karen Owens acted as the director of communications and economic development. She left Chapin in December for a job with the state. It appears when Owens was there, the department heads ran their departments themselves and simply used Owens as a resource to compile information that was then communicated with the mayor. If information was of immediate importance, the mayor could be contacted directly by the department heads themselves. Owens also facilitated special events like the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, the new Downtown Farmer’s Market, and acted as the town’s point person with the Labor Day Festival Committee.

The former mayor also had staff meetings every Friday. He met with the department heads to discuss issues, concerns, and develop solutions to any issues. After some discussion Tuesday, several councilmembers including Clonts, Koon, and Mayor David Knight agreed that the positions and methods used by the past administration seemed to have worked well. At that point they discussed going back to that arrangement, but no decisions were made.

Then the subject of hiring a zoning administrator came up. The council and mayor once again came to the same conclusion. They seemed to think that instead of hiring a town manager that would manage the town’s day-to-day operations, handle all the zoning issues, and do the work of an economic development and communications director, they might be better served going back to the old model and hiring an expert in planning and zoning to handle those duties. Again, no decision was made.

In the end, Councilmen Preston Baines and Al Koon were appointed to a committee along with Jeff Shaker of the municipal association. They were tasked with figuring out what type of help the town really needs,and what that person or peoples' job description would be. Meanwhile, several town employees are currently shouldering the burden of trying to keep the town going until some qualified help is hired no matter what these positions are called.

In an interesting twist, former Mayor Stan Shealy was in the gallery and reminded the council that they had no one working on special events, and some of those were fast approaching. He mentioned the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, an event that is normally scheduled in early spring, and the Labor Day Festival, which has been held for decades in early September and is one of the most popular in the state. When Shealy was asked when someone needed to get started on the organization of the Labor Day Festival and these other events, Shealy said, “A couple of months ago.”

The town’s leaders may meet again in another workshop to continue to discuss these issues before the next regular council meeting in March. It is expected that Baines, Koon, and Shaker’s committee will have something to report soon regarding these tasks and who should do them.

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