Transparency needed in Beaufort County case

When investigation wraps up, county should give details on what transpired with employee.

info@islandpacket.comJanuary 23, 2014 

We understand that Beaufort County cannot disclose details at this time about why its public safety director, Phil Foot, who oversees the Beaufort County Detention Center, was placed on paid administrative leave for one week. But we expect Beaufort County to make good on its duty of public transparency and give a full account of what transpired once an investigation is completed.

Foot has since returned to work. But instead of returning to his previous duties, he is now assigned to the Beaufort County Government Annex and has nothing to do with the jail, at least until the investigation is through.

County administrator Gary Kubic has said Foot violated county protocol but declined to give any details. The case has been turned over to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, which will conduct a review and turn its findings over to 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone. There's no timetable on how long the process will take.

We understand that SLED -- as well as local law enforcement agencies and local governments -- cannot comment on pending investigations. To do so could jeopardize outcomes of pending cases, giving one side a chance to make its case in the media.

At this point, all that is publicly known is that Foot's stepdaughter was arrested on a charge of public drunkenness Dec. 1, the day before Foot was placed on paid leave. She was in the Beaufort Downtown Marina parking lot on Bay Street where a 21-year-old man was charged with attempted murder.

At the time, Beaufort police ordered the stepdaughter to leave the parking lot. But, curiously, she was arrested more than 24 hours later and released from jail an hour after the arrest, according to police and jail records. Beaufort police have said they were investigating a "possible irregularity" in the arrest.

Once the review is complete, we hope to learn the full details. Far more than simply being nosey, full disclosure is the only way the public can gain the knowledge it needs to assess whether its county officials and police department are acting appropriately. Questions such as whether the county was the right to place Foot on administrative leave and whether he should be returned to his normal duties can only be answered once a full account of the incident is available.

The Beaufort County School District recently showed that transparency is important. Parents and taxpayers were kept in the dark about why a middle school principal was placed on administrative leave, then reassigned to a district office job for which he never showed up -- all the while collecting his $93,774 salary. He continued to do so for a year until the school board fired him this past November.

Until a full accounting was given, it was impossible for those who entrust their children -- and their tax dollars -- to the district to judge whether school district leaders made the right call.

We hope a similar public vetting will soon be given to the Beaufort County case.

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