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Thursday, July 1, 2010

South Carolina Supreme Court holds that County Councils may directly engage professionals to conduct investigations

By Manton Grier, Jr.

The Supreme Court of South Carolina recently held that a county council may bypass the council administrator and directly engage professionals when investigating members of the council. Bradshaw v. Anderson County, Op. No. 26830 (S.C. June 28, 2010). In that case, voters in Anderson County elected a new county council in November 2008. After the election, but prior to the installation of the new council, the former council declared an anticipatory breach of the county administrator’s contract and awarded him over $1 million.

When the new council was sworn into office, it voted to investigate several transactions by the former council and elected several accountants and lawyers to lead the investigation. Three Anderson County taxpayers brought an action to enjoin the investigation and sought a judgment declaring that the investigation violated the Home Rule Act. The trial court dismissed the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), and the plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the Supreme Court held that the Home Rule Act authorizes the Council to conduct an investigation and engage professionals to carry it out. Although the Home Rule Act states that “the council shall deal with county officers and employees . . . solely through the administrator,” it is prefaced with the limiting language of “[e]xcept for the purposes of inquiries of investigations.” S.C. Code Ann. § 4-9-660. Thus, the Court held that because the council engaged investigators “for the purpose of inquiries and investigations,” the unambiguous language allowed the council to retain outside professionals. Further, the Court stated that it would be absurd to require the administrator to investigate himself.

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