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Seals says vote to fire him as Richland County administrator was an 'ambush,' illegal

What you need to know about Richland County’s Gerald Seals

Richland County Council voted to fire county administrator Gerald Seals on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. He was first hired as interim county administrator in July 2016.
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Richland County Council voted to fire county administrator Gerald Seals on Tuesday, April 3, 2018. He was first hired as interim county administrator in July 2016.

Richland County Council's vote earlier this week to fire county Administrator Gerald Seals might have been illegal under South Carolina law, he said Thursday evening.

"I am the county administrator. That has not changed. And breaking the law or doing something outside the law cannot change that," Seals said in a lengthy interview with The State newspaper Thursday evening, two days after a surprising 6-5 vote by County Council to terminate his contract immediately.

According to Seals' three-year contract, County Council members may vote to fire him at any point.

But according to state law, if a council decides to remove its administrator, "he shall be given a written statement of the reasons alleged for the proposed removal and the right to a hearing" at a public meeting of the council.

The law continues: "Within five days after the notice of removal is delivered to the administrator, he may file with the council a written request for a public hearing. This hearing shall be held at a council meeting not earlier than 20 days nor later than 30 days after the request is filed."

The council abruptly voted to fire Seals at the end of a nearly five-hour meeting Tuesday night at which Seals was not present. He has been on personal leave this week because of injuries.

Seals said he learned of his firing at the same time as the public, through a live-streamed feed of Tuesday's meeting. He was given no prior notice, he said.

"I invoke all my rights under that state law, up to and including a public hearing, so that we can be very transparent and so that all the issues ... will be before the public," Seals told The State.

On Wednesday, a day after the late-night vote, some council members told The State that they chose to fire Seals for reasons ranging from him not being transparent about county business to treating county employees unfairly to taking actions outside of council instruction. Some other council members declined to comment on specific reasons why they voted to fire Seals.

Council members who voted to fire Seals were Norman Jackson, Gwen Kennedy, Paul Livingston, Jim Manning, Greg Pearce and Seth Rose.

Those against firing Seals were Joyce Dickerson, Chip Jackson, Bill Malinowski, Yvonne McBride and Dalhi Myers.

"We have termination by ambush, and now that we've engaged in that, we're going to turn around and justify it after the fact," Seals said. "How is that proper?"

Seals suggested that some council members might have voted to fire him as an act of retaliation for personal grievances, including because of ethical issues he said he has raised.

Seals disputed a number of claims raised by some council members.

Seals said he has been transparent with council members and has never "acted contrary to council authorization. I have not acted without council authorization."

He also noted that council members never gave him a performance evaluation since he was officially hired in December 2016.

He served as interim administrator for five months before that.

The Richland County Council decided to fire administrator Gerald Seals after a heated debate in a Tuesday night meeting.

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