News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, March 25, 2013
AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- Aiken City Councilman Dick Dewar is a leader who likes to visit his troops.
"Well, I always felt as a member of council that I was entitled to go visit city staff in their work place," he told News 12.
But what happened weeks ago at the Aiken Department of Public Safety has started a big debate.
"I went over, one night, to Public Safety dispatch center,” Dewar said. “I wanted to see what it was like, how it was operating, and so forth."
A couple days later, Dewar got a letter from City Attorney Gary H. Smith III. It essentially told him visiting city employees was illegal unless he got City Manager Richard Pearce’s approval first.
"If we met city employees at the market, and so forth, it's fine to say, 'How are you doing,' 'Thank you, for your job,' and so forth, but we should not discuss work issues with them,” Dewar said.
Dewar says he doesn't agree with the city's decision.
"We the People" founder Debbie Nix doesn't agree, either. She says the people elect Dewar and others to make sure city employees are happy. The city manager and city attorney are not elected.
"This takes away from the freedoms of the city council to be able to actually fulfill their job,” Nix said.
And she says state law seems to contradict the city's decision. It says council members like Dewar do "have the power to inquire into the conduct of any office, department or agency of the municipality, make investigations as to municipal affairs and give the public information concerning them" (see SC Code Sec. 5-13-30(5)).
"They need to find out exactly what is legal and what is not legal, and then they need to stand for the people that voted them into office,” Nix said.
News 12 is told South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office has been asked for an opinion to determine whether or not the City of Aiken is in violation of the state code of laws.
City Manager Pearce points to another paragraph in the code: “Except for the purpose of inquiries and investigations, neither the council nor its members shall deal with municipal officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the manager except through the manager, and neither the council nor its members shall give orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately” (see SC Code Sec. 5-13-40(c)).
Pearce says the opinion issued by City Attorney Smith was not directed at Councilman Dewar. He says the city will wait and see what the Attorney General’s office opines.
News 12 attempted to reach Smith, but he wasn’t immediately available for comment.