A tumultuous two weeks atop Effingham County’s governmental operations came to a quiet end Tuesday.
With little discussion and less acrimony, county commissioners approved a separation package for both David and Patrice Crawley. David Crawley, the county administrator, and Patrice Crawley, the county clerk, resigned their positions. Patrice Crawley’s resignation took effect immediately, and today will be David Crawley’s last official day on the job.
Some commissioners had pushed for the Crawleys’ ousters, but other commissioners had been vocal in their support of the couple.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to ask these resignations,” said Commissioner Steve Mason.
“I’ll go along with statement also,” added Commissioner Reggie Loper. “I’m not for it, but I’ll vote for it.”
Mason said he accepted the separation agreement and that it was agreeable to all the parties.
“The separation agreement is not something I was asking for,” Mason said. “But I believe I can say that I did accept because that is what the Crawleys asked to do. I think they were tired of the accusations and the things that have been flying around, relative to the audit that is still unfinished.”
Mason said he attempted to talk David Crawley out of resigning but eventually relented and agreed to back his decision to step down.
“I think it was the best thing for the Crawleys,” he said. “They asked for me to support this, and I did.”
Commissioners took the unusual step of going into executive session first at their meeting Tuesday. After 45 minutes, they emerged, and voted to approve the separation package for the Crawleys. Letters of resignation were not submitted but are expected to be delivered to the county as part of the separation agreement.
There had been no discussions of problems with staff prior to the vote on the separation agreement, Mason said, even though other commissioners publicly said there was no confidence in the county’s day-to-day management.
“This is the first time this has been discussed as a board,” Mason said. “There haven’t been any discussions about personnel problems before tonight.”
David Crawley was paid $90,000 a year as administrator and his separation package includes a year’s salary. The Crawleys also had accrued unused vacation, sick leave and administrative leave time, and the total separation package is reported to be approximately $145,000.
Patrice Crawley had been employed by the county for 16 years, and David Crawley had been with the county for 10 years.
Crawley had been zoning administrator and assistant county administrator and was appointed to the top job after Ed Williams resigned. Crawley served as interim county administrator for seven months before agreeing to accept the position in August 2008.
Prior to coming to Effingham County, he was a senior wetland biologist for Kern-Coleman and Company. His duties there included natural resource planning, mitigation planning and monitoring, wetland delineation, GIS land planning, protected species surveys and environmental permitting.
Crawley has a master’s and a bachelor’s in biology from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.
Mason again praised the Crawleys for their service to the county.
“I think David Crawley has done a good job for the county,” he said. “Patrice Crawley has done an excellent job. I don’t think anything that has been accused of her rose to the level of her needing to resign. I don’t believe there was anything to hide. I had confidence in them, and I still have confidence in them. This was their choice. For whatever reason, this was their choice and I will support it because they asked me to.”
Mason also said there was a division among board members about wanting the Crawleys to leave. He added he has not seen anything that leads him think the Crawleys were guilty of criminal acts.
“I don’t think anybody was willing to prosecute these folks over something that they have not had an opportunity to answer,” he said. “I don’t think there is anything criminal that we can tie to them. If in the future, we ever do find something that was criminal done by anybody, like we have done in the past with others, we will prosecute them.”
Commissioner Phi Kieffer said there were “quite a few” things in the audit findings that are troubling. Commissioners have scheduled a workshop session to discuss the audit findings and finalize management responses. Those responses ordinarily are prepared and finished by the county administrator.
“And we’ll have a chance to work through those in the upcoming workshop and formulate management responses,” Kieffer said.
The county also is nearing having to complete its fiscal year 2014 budget. The current fiscal year ends June 30, and the FY14 budget is supposed to be done by July 1.
But commissioners have not held any budget hearings to date. Mason said because the situation with the Crawleys came up between meetings, there is no plan for a transition period. Commissioners approved appointing Karen Arnold as interim county clerk but made no such provision for an interim county administrator.
“This is going to be a very difficult time for the county,” he said. “It’s going to cause a lot more work for the commissioners and the staff to get through this. I hope our department heads and elected officials understand and work with us to get through this budget. The budget is probably the most challenging time as a county commissioner.”
Kieffer, however, did not foresee any difficulties in presenting and approving a budget.
“We have a finance director who has done the lion’s share of the budgets since I’ve been here,” he said, “so I’m not concerned about getting through the budget.”
Both Mason and Kieffer agreed the commissioners are together on getting the audit responses done and in turn, completing the audit.
“The entire board wants to get this audit wrapped,” Mason said. “We want to get the findings answered. We want to get them answered by management, which is what you have to do and in this case, management is us. Most of it, I believe, is done.”
Said Kieffer: “At the end of the day, we all have the common goal of where we have to get. We know we just have to get there.”