Darlington City Council vote fails to oust longtime city municipal judge

Ronda Brown receiving Kalmia Garden Study Club proclamation from Mayor Gloria Hines.		              Photos by Jana E. Pye

Ronda Brown receiving Kalmia Garden Study Club proclamation from Mayor Gloria Hines. Photos by Jana E. Pye

By Jana E. Pye, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

A motion failed during the June 7th meeting for the Darlington City Council to oust longtime city municipal judge with a 3 – 3 tie vote and one abstention.

In a list of 16 agenda items for the June monthly meeting, two revolved around the present municipal judge, a seat currently held by Daniel B. Causey, III :
12. First Reading of Ordinance 2016-07: Retirement Age for Municipal Judge; and 15: Vote to Open Application for Municipal Judge.

First Reading of Ordinance 2016-07: Retirement Age for Municipal Judge
Mayor Gloria Hines opened the discussion for the ordinance as follows:

“As you know if you look at your handbooks and look at the ordinance, the municipal judge the age is 72 for retirement, ….but there’s nothing set in place for the municipal judge. So we want to put that on out and get a First Reading and vote on it. Can I get a motion for that?

Council member Carolyn Bruce made a motion, which was seconded by fellow council member Elaine Reed.

Hines continued; “All in favor for voting on it by saying aye?”

Reed, Bruce, and Hines all said “Aye.”

“Nays have the same right,” continued Hines.

She was met by silence.

John Milling, member of Darlington City Council (who is a retired judge and a practicing attorney at law) spoke next.

“Madam Mayor, I just make one request.” said Milling. “That we consider asking Mr. James, the City Attorney to send the proposed ordinance simply to the Attorney General’s office. Uh, I understand the function, and…”

“You want to amend the motion?” said Hines.

“No, First Reading is fine, we would need a Second Reading,” said Milling. But I want to be sure that we do not step on any codes, and any violations or any stay of federal statutes …that say you can’t discriminate against people based on age. I don’t think that it would, but it wouldn’t hurt for the Attorney General’s office to take a look at it before…it’s a free service that is provided to…”

Mayor Hines said, “The only thing that we are doing is just starting the same that um, Magistrate Judge has.”

Milling continued. “Ah, we are, and I don’t think, I don’t that that we would run into a violation but I just do not see any real problem just having it reviewed to just be sure there are no age issues. And then we can come back to vote at the Second Reading.”

Mayor Hines replied, “Mr. Garland can take care of that.”

15: Vote to Open Application for Municipal Judge

Editor’s note: portions of this segment of the meeting – up to a vote, were video taped and are available at our website, www.newsandpress.net.

The agenda item was opened by Mayor Hines: “A Vote to Open Application for Municipal Judge. This is has been a discussion, some of you said you wanted to open up the application for a municipal judge so at this time,”

John Milling turned his seat towards the back corner where Mayor Hines sits.

“I’m sorry I’m turning to I can see,” said Milling.

Hines continued. “So, I would ask for a motion at this time, or open for debate, whatever, do we have a motion?”

Reed said, “So moved.”

Bruce said, “Second.”

“There has been a proper second to accept the application for municipal judge, open up the application, let me know by saying Aye.” continued Mayor Hines.
Bruce, Reed and Hines all said, “Aye.”

John Milling said, “Are we going to have discussion on this?”

Council member Bryant Gardner said, “Yeah, why are we doing the motion before the discussion?”

Hines: “I mean, I’m sorry, go ahead, go ahead.”

Gardner said, “I’m just curious…I mean, it’s done, but…for clarity in the future?” “What do we need to discuss?” said Hines.

“The majority just voted, so, it doesn’t matter.” said Gardner

Hines said, “We discuss…”

“I don’t think we voted,” said Milling.

Many members spoke at once at this point; on the recording, a voice said, “I didn’t vote” was heard.

“Go ahead,” said Mayor Hines.

“I, I just my concern is that we currently have that position filled. It is my understanding that there is some concern that it was not officially voted on by council in 2015,” said Milling. “…and then perhaps it was voted on in 2013, and in 2011, and then in 2009. …a sitting judge would not have the authority to require that this be put down so I am concerned that city council not having acted has created something of a problem. I don’t want us to be in a situation where we are doing things in a way that it makes it look like if we failed to do something, then we use it to our advantage. If somebody else fails to do something, we hold them accountable for that. A municipal judge is responsible for presiding over the terms of court that they place we need to sort of set an example for other people in the community that we are asking them to comply with ordinances, and we are asking the judge to rule on issues. Judgment based upon compliance and non-compliance that we ought to be the first one to set an example about how we do things. This city council, although many of us weren’t here, stubbed its toe last year I would still like to see the position remain at this time as it is and then in 2017 we move to do something with that position if that is what council wants to do. I also would like to see us before we simply open up the applications I think we if we don’t have it, I apologize for my ignorance but I think we need define what our expectations are for a city judge and outline the responsibilities we expect that city judge to fulfill so that anybody that is applying for it knows that they are doing something other than simply applying for the position as city judge but I think we are premature in dealing with the opening up of the application process for city municipal judge.”

Council member Elaine Reed said, “I hear what you say, but I also hear we were instructed that the municipal judge position had not been dealt with. And we don’t know what the terms are, but that it hadn’t been dealt with. And from our information, it said it ended June 2016. And I just felt like because of if council hadn’t done it in four years, hadn’t dealt with it then, we are new. I want to try to do the right thing. And that’s what I was saying. This was the information given to us and I thought we would be active in doing. There’s nothing to say but the city judge now can’t apply for it, we are just saying let’s open it up. Let’s follow the right procedure if that’s the procedure that we should have done, let’s just do it. I mean, I am not understanding- I don’t see what’s wrong about opening up the application because we understood there was no action taken from the council before. And it was brought to our attention that that was something that needed to be dealt with.”
Carolyn Bruce held up a sheet of paper and said, “ I received this letter in the mail, and I am sure all of you guys received it too. And as I was reading it, it talks about how the municipal judge section 26.5 provides this municipal judge should be appointed by the city council at it’s first meeting in July of each year to go for a period of two years. And according to Judge Causey, ‘when my term expired in June of 2015 I was approached about serving another term.’ Now, I wasn’t on the council. Most of us wasn’t on the council. So, where, who- who approached him? Where is there a contract in writing that he serves to 2017?”

Mayor Hines said, “We were not told about that. I don’t know who did that.”

“Did everyone get this letter?” said Bruce.

Hines shared that the issue was not voted on in council, and that she did not know who Judge Causey spoke with.

“I don’t know who Judge Causey talked to, it was not brought before council,” she said. “I don’t know where that part came from. All I know is I was approached in January and said this year we were to appoint a judge. That’s what I was told. That’s all.”

Council member John Segars said, ”I think to follow up with what Mr. Milling was speaking of, the term of the judge goes from 13 to 15, from 15 to 17; and since council maybe in inaction allowed him to start serving on June 15 so his term expires in 2017 and based on the council if they have any action or inaction we should allow him to go ahead and serve his term on out, which expires in 2017. And based on council, if they have any action or inaction, we should allow him to go ahead and serve that term on out in 2017 and then we can open this thing up for applications.”

Mayor Pro Tem Coleman Cannon added, “It said he was approached, now we didn’t vote on it last term. … I see two things there. First he was approached and council didn’t vote. The other thing I see is that whoever told him that dropped the ball on all of us. But I don’t know who told him. But council didn’t vote on it. So I don’t know how this is going to work.”

City Manager Howard Garland said, “It is my understanding that Mr. Causey was appointed by Mayor Ronnie Ward when he was strong mayor and had that right. The next time it came up was 2009 when applications opened. So it was brought to council for vote. The next vote was 2013. That is the only votes that we could find that were on record concerning the Municipal Judge position. And that goes back for almost 30 years.

This is a council decision; it’s not city manager or anybody else. This is up to y’all.”

Hines asked if their was any more discussion.

Bruce asked if there was not a contract would the city be held liable if they opened for applications.

“I don’t want to get into a discussion of legal matter that is more for council and city to do but you run into something by your actions or your inactions,” said Milling.. “… more the idea that is it a fair and appropriate thing to do to in essence dismiss him during mid term? … I would rather wait until the next 12 months and move into it the next 2017 with everything being explored.

After more banter, the issue was brought for a vote by Hines; she, Bruce and Reed all voted Aye.

Milling, Gardner and Segars voted “Nay.”

Mayor Pro Tem Coleman Cannon abstained.

The motion failed to pass due to tie.

See video here:

Kalmia Garden Study Club received a special proclamation, received by Ronda Brown.

The city passed second readings for the following ordinances:

Ordinance 2016-05 Continuation of Business License Tax, and 2016-06 Tax Anticipation Note.

City also passed First Reading of the following ordinances: Water and Sewer Rate Increase, and Ordinance 2016-09 Storm Water Fee; both issues were featured in the June 8th issue of the News and Press and available here: Water bills may go up in City of Darlington

City council also learned that City Attorney Albert James III has chosen to step down from his position in September; council approved the opening of applications for a future city attorney.

Public Hearing for 2016-2017 Budget will be June 23 at 6 p.m., followed by Special Council Meeting at 7 p.m.

City offices will be closed for the Independence Day Holiday Monday, July 4.

Freedom Fest at the Darlington Raceway 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., featuring a fireworks display.

Regular monthly meeting for Darlington City Council will be held Tuesday, July 12 at 7 p.m.

Author: Duane Childers

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