Hilton Head Island Town Council should not hire an attorney to advise it on the employment of the town manager without telling the public what it’s all about.
Town Council secretly hired a lawyer to discuss behind closed doors its relationship with town manager Steve Riley. The legal fee is $11,500 to date, as far as we know.
Town Council did not publicly vote to hire the lawyer for this purpose, which would violate its own procurement code. The firm was engaged in August 2016, but the only record of a public vote came this June when council agreed to retain the firm as the town’s bond counsel.
So what’s going on? Why was that a secret?
We know that since mid-2016 Town Council has held about half a dozen closed meetings that include discussion of Riley’s job.
As required by law, the council has been specific in stating the purpose of executive sessions, with language such as: “contract negotiations and receipt of legal advice related to the agreement between Town Council and the town manager.” On another occasion, the stated reason included: “Discussion of employment, appointment, compensation or release of employee.”
Mayor David Bennett ran on a campaign that Town Hall was broken, and he and Riley have had a strained relationship at least since Bennett took office in 2014.
And for at least a year, Riley has been seeking a job elsewhere, being a finalist in several well-publicized town-manager searches in other states.
Bennett and Town Council members point to Riley’s job search as the reason it is holding so many meetings behind closed doors about him. Some say that there are now enough votes on Town Council to fire Riley.
How did it come to this?
Riley joined the town staff in 1991, became interim manager in 1994 and was named town manager in 1995. But only now does the public get any hint that there’s a problem with his job performance and, frankly, they don’t seem to believe it.
Clearly, there’s more to it than Riley’s job search. And our community deserves to know from Bennett, Riley and the Town Council what it is.
We need to first know the problem, and then what Town Council is going to do about it.
Sneakily hiring legal counsel is the polar opposite of what is needed.
Somebody needs to shine some light on this situation.