Council confusion: Richland County struggles to pass million dollar settlement for Gerald Seals
Richland County will pay more than $1 million to former county administrator Gerald Seals, who was fired — twice — last month by a sharply divided County Council.
Council members voted 5-4 on the settlement payment after a roughly four-hour, closed-door, special-called meeting Monday.
The settlement was agreed on to protect the county and individual council members from potential lawsuits Seals could bring, multiple council members told The State.
The settlement awards Seals an $800,000 cash payout on top of one year's salary of $184,000 and six months' health insurance coverage, multiple council members confirmed. The total value of the settlement tops $1 million.
Seals' contract allows for a year's severance pay and six months' health insurance coverage if it were determined he was fired without "cause."
"The settlement speaks for itself," Seals told The State on Tuesday morning. "And the real point that I want to make is that I enjoyed being a part of the employees who are incredibly dedicated and very much interested in delivering service with excellence, which has been a hallmark of my career and will continue to be so."
Six of the 11 County Council members voted last month to fire Seals: Norman Jackson, Gwen Kennedy, Paul Livingston, Jim Manning, Greg Pearce and Seth Rose. Those against Seals' firing were Joyce Dickerson, Chip Jackson, Bill Malinowski, Yvonne McBride and Dalhi Myers.
On Monday, Chip Jackson, Kennedy, McBride, Myers and Pearce voted in favor of the terms of Seals' settlement. Manning and Rose were not present for the vote. Council members did not publicly disclose the terms of the settlement at the time of the vote.
"I think what's in the best interest of those I represent is to, in fact, accept the motion, even though I do not agree with everything in the motion," Chip Jackson said before Monday's vote. "The greater cause of moving forward as a council and a county is more important than my opinion about the actual document I have before me."
"I concur 100 percent," Pearce added.
Seals has said he believes his firing was illegal under South Carolina law and, in a strongly worded letter to council members on April 14, said the six council members who voted to fire him had made "thinly disguised desultory insults, character-bashings, innuendos, derisions, and personally and professionally" defamed him.
The formal reasons given for Seals' firing included that he took major actions without input from the council, slept on the job and had a rapid turnover in county staff. Seals has disputed those claims.
Seals has said he believes his firing was done in retaliation for raising ethical issues related to some council members, including — but not limited to — what Seals says was an illegal land purchase at Pinewood Lake Park involving Councilman Norman Jackson. (County Council members recently requested an investigation into Jackson by the State Law Enforcement Division.)
Seals had requested a public hearing and reconsideration of his employment, which was scheduled for Wednesday. That hearing is unnecessary now.
Seals was portrayed in an authoritarian light by multiple council members during his 22-month tenure as interim and full county administrator.
He was the driving force behind the county's transition to a biennial budget, restructuring county staff and the controversial Richland Renaissance development plan involving a new judicial center and county administrative offices.
Seals was hired as interim county administrator in July 2016. In December 2016, council members abandoned a national search and extended a full contract to Seals. Council members Rose and Pearce voted against Seals' hiring at that time.