They’ve done it again.
The Beaufort County Council has run off another county administrator.
No, it wasn’t the full council who did the deed. The whole story is right there on the County Channel’s Sept. 24 Finance Committee video, Item 4, and they were at it again at Monday night’s council meeting.
It is the familiar Group of Four — Rick Caporale, Michael E. Covert, Steven G. Fobes and Brian Flewelling — who together executed a superbly choreographed hatchet job.
This time it was the county attorney, Thomas Keaveny II, they have run off. This is the same Thomas Keaveny II whom a couple of months ago they had begged to wear temporarily a second hat, that of interim county administrator, while the council continued its epic search for an administrator to replace Gary Kubic, who left a year ago.
Yes, Chairman Paul Sommerville has temporarily talked the lawyer off the ledge, and in exchange for a telling agreement that council will treat him “with respect and civility,” Keaveny has agreed to stay on as interim administrator until Oct. 15.
The one before Keaveny was acting administrator Josh Gruber. As deputy administrator under Kubic, Gruber had run the county’s day-to-day operations — including cleaning up after two hurricanes — leaving Kubic free to focus on long-range planning. Gruber left after the Group of Four, joined by Councilmen York Glover and Gerald Dawson, repeatedly publicly second-guessed decisions that were solely the administrator’s to make.
Before Keaveny and Gruber, it was Kubic who left before his contract was up, fed up with, among other things, the Group of Four’s vitriol and sneaky efforts to meddle in the day-to-day operations of the county.
Let’s go to the Finance Committee videotape.
Saying they questioned Keaveny’s judgment, ethics and financial decisions, and after each had had a whack at him, the Group of Four voted to spend not more than $10,000 to bring in an independent investigator to second-guess a decision the group acknowledged the interim administrator had, under the county’s policies, the sole authority to make.
Keaveny tendered his resignation as interim administrator the next morning, not because he had done anything wrong, but because the group had for no good reason publicly dragged his name through the mud.
It is moments like these — and there are more and more of them — that caused the assistant county attorney, Christopher S. Inglese, to describe workforce morale at the county as “despicable” in an email that was circulated to the County Council last Friday. The email described the staff as “overworked, underpaid, (and) stressed by the dysfunction and drama of Council.”
But workforce morale is not the Group of Four’s concern as they amply demonstrated Monday night when, enlisting Dawson and Glover to their cause, they pushed again to get Keaveny investigated for doing what they agree he had the sole authority to do.
Over the past 14 months (since Kubic announced his decision to leave), County Council has spent at least $60,000 hiring, paying the expenses for, and apparently firing two search firms that have delivered to them candidates the council found unqualified, or whom, when the candidate got a close look at the situation here, chose to pass Beaufort County by.
Now, with the search for a county administrator temporarily suspended, because Keaveny’s “with respect and civility” term is undoubtedly short, County Council is searching inside and out for a new temporary administrator.
In the current tight labor market, it is reasonable to ask what qualified person, having seen the history recounted above, would take either job.
Bill Rauch of Beaufort is a writer and former mayor of Beaufort.