Politics & Government

Beaufort Co. Council takes a mulligan after ‘error,’ elects new leaders at special meeting

Newly-elected Beaufort County Council Chairman Stu Rodman (center, seated) and his colleagues pose for their official county photo after a specially called meeting Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Beaufort, S.C.
Newly-elected Beaufort County Council Chairman Stu Rodman (center, seated) and his colleagues pose for their official county photo after a specially called meeting Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Beaufort, S.C. wlivingston@islandpacket.com

For the second time in a week — and following what some have called a mistake — Beaufort County Council has a new chairman and vice chairman.

Hilton Head Island councilman Stu Rodman was elected chair at a specially called meeting Monday, just five days after the county’s governing body, absent some of its members, initially selected Brian Flewelling for the role.

But Flewelling later said his election was “incomplete” — because council failed to follow its own rules, which necessitated a do-over.

The misfire-to-mulligan highlighted confusion between council members and the officials who advise them.

And it’s a sputtering start to a new term for a council that, while sporting four fresh members, is coming out of a stretch marked by divisiveness and failed attempts to hire a permanent county administratoran era the body wants to move past.

Last Wednesday, after new council members were sworn in, Brian Flewelling (District 5) ran unopposed for the chairperson role, and no one challenged Mike Covert (District 7) for the vice chair position.

But three council members — last year’s chair Paul Sommerville (District 2), Alice Howard (District 4) and Larry McElynn (District 10) — were absent.

And while Stu Rodman (District 11) moved to postpone Wednesday’s elections so all members could weigh in, his motion failed.

Thus, Flewelling and Covert were seemingly elected, but there was a problem.

Both men received five votes, a simple majority of the eight councilmen at last week’s meeting.

But in order to assume the chair and vice chair roles, council rules specify candidates must receive at least six votes, a stipulation they later learned from legal counsel and interim Beaufort County Administrator John Weaver, according to Flewelling.

“The meeting failed to produce the results that are required by the rules and procedures,” Flewelling said ahead of Tuesday’s re-vote, “so we’re moving on to the next available date.”

Rodman said he was under the impression that, prior to last week’s meeting, there was “an agreement” in place to postpone the elections so all council members could attend.

When asked if there was such an agreement, Flewelling said there had been “discussion” about a postponement, but added that the same rules that required a six-vote majority also mandated council hold elections for chair and vice chair on the first business day of the year.

“I’m hoping that it would be understood in the public that we’re just following our rules,” Flewelling said.

He called last week’s proceedings “human error” and said there were no devious or ulterior motives.

He also said council would be able to move forward and work together with “no bad taste in our mouths.”

On Monday, Flewelling again ran for chair and again received five votes. But Sommerville, Howard and McElynn supported Rodman, who earned the requisite six.

Covert was also unseated Monday when Sommerville was nominated and garnered seven votes for the vice-chair role.

When asked Monday if the previous week’s election was intentionally held because certain members were absent, Covert said that was not the case. He said he was happy that the process worked and pledged to work with his colleagues moving forward.

Councilman York Glover (District 3) asked Weaver why the body wasn’t advised about the six-vote rule; Weaver said he was never asked about it and that he assumed council members knew the rules.

After the meeting, Glover again expressed frustration council members weren’t properly advised, but also said he and his colleagues should know the rules.

Last week, when he was informed of the error, Flewelling said he and Covert conferred and quickly called for Tuesday’s special meeting to re-do the chair elections.

Rodman called Flewelling “a stand-up guy” and praised him for calling for a re-vote.

“It’s no big deal,” Rodman said Monday afternoon, before the meeting.

“I don’t think it’s really worth discussing.”