Sheriff asks SLED to investigate allegations against administrator

COUNTY — Pickens County sheriff Rick Clark has asked the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to conduct an investigation into a Pickens County councilman’s allegation that a former county administrator illegally used county resources.

After less than six months on the job, former administrator Matthew Delk and the county parted ways in February. No reason was given for Delk’s abrupt resignation, and county officials said at the time they could not comment on personnel matters.

But according to documents in Delk’s human resources file obtained by The Courier, the administrator and council members had butted heads as far back as December, when he was issued a written warning that his performance was “deficient” as compared to the standards outlined by the county employee handbook and/or his contract.

The warning, signed by council chairman Jennifer Willis and Delk on Jan. 21, listed a number of areas of concern, including the administrator meeting with agencies without notifying council, taking a position contrary to council members in a public meeting, causing delays on three “vital” county construction projects and undermining a department head, among others.

However, the most serious allegations came in the form of an email sent by clerk to council Donna Owen on behalf of councilman Neil Smith prior to council’s planned retreat in February.

“Councilman Smith has asked me to put an email out to council to state that he is not planning on going to a council retreat with an administrator who is insubordinate, incompetent and who uses county resources in an illegal manner,” Owen wrote in an email sent to other council members on Feb. 11.

According to Pickens County Sheriff’s Office chief deputy Creed Hashe, the sheriff’s office received an anonymous letter asking why Smith’s allegation of illegal activity was not being investigated.

“It would be inappropriate for the sheriff’s office to conduct any investigation into an allegation or statement of illegal use of county resources made by one elected official against the Pickens County administrator,” Clark said. “To avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, I have turned this entire matter over to a third party for their review.”

Pickens County Council chairman Jennifer Willis told The Courier on Tuesday that Pickens County Council “is fully committed to cooperating” with any investigation, though she said council members feel no criminal investigation is warranted.

“Pickens County Council holds itself to the highest standards in ethical conduct,” she said. “All actions are publicly disclosed, including the nature of executive session items as defined by state statue. Items of a contractual nature, such as economic development, personnel matters, potential purchase of property, etc., are cloaked by executive session until (a vote) is taken in public forum.

“In some cases, action is directed, such as the vote on Jan. 20 (regarding a personnel matter), which later becomes public due to a FOIA request. This is completely within the intent of the law. …. Our actions on that date were completely legal.”

Willis gave Monday night’s council meeting as an example of executive session procedures.

“After last night’s executive session, council came out and reported on each item on the executive session agenda individually, to clearly show the public what transpired,” she said Tuesday. “This is our usual practice.”

In addition, Willis said the county’s financial actions are publicly disclosed, including monthly reports on the Pickens County website, to allow residents to view all records.

“Our county has won the CAFR award for excellence in public accounting for nine consecutive years,” she said. “For instance, when the 2014-2015 budget was approved (on third reading on June 23, 2014), the salary for the administrator was approved, although no one had been hired at that time. On July 24, 2014, council voted publicly to hire Matthew Delk and approve a four-year contract for his employment with Pickens County (beginning Aug. 25). On Feb. 17, council voted to accept Matthew Delk’s resignation and terminate his contract of employment with a reduction from the four years of salary stated in that contract. In the budget amendment to this year’s budget, the action to adjust for this payment to Mr. Delk will be accounted for, along with all other financial matters that have occurred, causing a change, during the year in detail, including the date of the council action to authorize.

“While this date reporting for the budget amendment is not required, it is council’s choice to operate in the sunshine and public domain to clearly show the history of our actions. It is in everyone’s best interest.”

As of press time, SLED officials had not launched an investigation.

“SLED has received a request from sheriff Rick Clark,” SLED spokesman Thom Berry said. “We are reviewing his request, but no decision has been reached whether to conduct a preliminary inquiry.”