Politics & Government

Council tried to have a citizen removed from a public meeting. The police refused

Beaufort Co. chairman asks deputy for help when a citizen refuses to leave the podium

At the June 24, 2019 Beaufort County Council meeting, a local resident gets shutdown by chairman Stewart Rodman during public comment.
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At the June 24, 2019 Beaufort County Council meeting, a local resident gets shutdown by chairman Stewart Rodman during public comment.

For the second time in less than a month, the County Council chairman asked Beaufort County Sheriff’s deputies to remove a citizen in the middle of a public speech.

On Monday night, deputies refused.

“The deputies were advised not to take any action,” said Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Maj. Bob Bromage. “If you start removing people, you have a problem with constitutional rights. If we remove somebody, that’s a violation of free speech.”

Near the beginning of Monday’s County Council meeting, during the citizen comments section, Skip Hoagland, a vocal critic of local government officials, attempted to use his allotted three minutes to address transparency in county government. Before he even started speaking, however, tensions rose between Hoagland and members of council, particularly Chairman Stu Rodman. Hoagland spoke for less than a minute before Rodman called the meeting into recess.

After initially ordering Hoagland to sit down, Rodman called for an officer to intervene four times — all of which proved unsuccessful. Deputies did not respond to Rodman’s demands. Sheriff PJ Tanner was also at the meeting.

Tanner said Rodman had previously asked his deputies to intervene at a council meeting in May, and the officers removed Hoagland from the meeting. However, Tanner said he instructed his officers prior to Monday’s meeting not to remove Hoagland unless he was in violation of a South Carolina statute or criminal ordinance.

Tanner said he also told council members during closed session that his officers can remove someone only if that person is breaking the law.

“If someone is out of order or if someone can’t get order in the chamber, they need to take a recess,” he said. “Our officers are there for security measures.”

On Monday, when Hoagland continued talking and refused to sit down, Rodman called for the meeting to recess. Council members Chris Hervochon and Lawrence McElynn left their seats during this exchange. Rodman leaned back in his chair before standing up, buttoning his jacket and leaving the room. He didn’t allow Hoagland to speak, he said, because “transparency” was not listed on the council agenda.

Typically, after council members finish the last public section of the meeting, they allow citizen comments. On Monday night, Rodman immediately called the meeting into executive session, which is closed from the public. Rodman and about a half-dozen other council members eventually returned after the executive session and allowed Hoagland to speak, but Rodman cut him off for a final time after just 55 seconds and adjourned the meeting.

Telephoned about the matter, Rodman refused to discuss it with a reporter.

Councilman Brian Flewelling, who remained in his seat during both of Hoagland’s speeches, said Rodman and Hoagland came into the meeting with a lot of history, and neither party was interested in finding a peaceful middle ground.

“I was disappointed in the way Chairman Rodman handled the situation from beginning to end,” he said. “It just kind of played into a bad perception.”

He said he could understand Rodman’s displeasure with Hoagland’s tone, but that Rodman could have presented his decisions in a way that seemed less personal. Flewelling called the situation a mistake and said he expects the council to learn from it.

Hoagland, who describes himself as an outspoken critic of county government, said he attended the meeting because he’s tired of the county squandering and misusing money. He said that, as elected officials, members of council should show taxpayers respect — something he said he didn’t get Monday night.

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The Growth and Development Reporter for the Island Packet, Kacen Bayless is a native of Ballwin, Missouri. In the past, he’s worked for St. Louis Magazine, the Columbia Missourian, KBIA and the Columbia Business Times. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree with an emphasis in Investigative Reporting from the University of Missouri in 2019.