Friday’s first editorial celebrates the difference this time around in the process of hiring a new county administrator, compared with the back door, closed off decision-making process on display the last time around. (At least so far.)
What a difference a few years make. In 2009, as Horry County searched for a new county administrator, the hunt was plagued by secrecy, with candidates being furtively ushered in unannounced to meetings the public was never told about. Executive sessions were held to discuss the attributes of candidates, beyond the public’s eyes and ears.
After The Sun News complained about such practices, then-County Council Chairwoman Liz Gilland responded by saying the idea of informing the public during the process had just never come up. In hindsight, she said, she’s glad it didn’t, and finding the right person to oversee the county and it’s $300 million budget wasn’t something the public should be worrying about.
“That’s something they’re just going to have to trust the people they elected are going to make the right decision on,” Gilland told The Sun News in 2009.
It’s refreshing, therefore, that the current council, led by Chairman Tom Rice, does not seem to agree with this vision of an opaque and covert process. “If I have anything to do with it, it’ll be on the up and up,” Rice said Thursday, speaking about following the state’s freedom of information law.
And so far, he’s been true to his word. Seven candidates to replace the ousted John Weaver met with the council Tuesday morning in a meeting that was announced ahead of time and open to the public. True, the actual interviews were done in executive session and beyond the sight of any resident who cared to show up, but that’s neither a violation of the state’s freedom of information law or common sense. Some of the candidates may not want the fact that they are looking for a new job to get back to their current employers. That’s understandable, but so is the fact that county residents will want more information about just who may be put in charge. Whenever possible, a public discussion about the job and its applicants should be the default position.
Once the candidates are winnowed to three, state law requires the County Council to divulge both names and any information gathered about those left in the running for the top job (though the council is also certainly free to offer information on more than three finalists as early as they like). Rice said Thursday he expects the finalists to emerge in the next few weeks. We will be anxiously awaiting more information. In the meantime, the marked difference in the process this time around already has us feeling more confident in both the search itself and the commitment of our leaders to keeping the public informed.