Great Falls Town Council fires clerk

GREAT FALLS -- The Great Falls Town Council fired its clerk Tuesday night, a day after she accused four council members of holding an illegal meeting.

No reason was given for firing Julie Blackwell, who has been employed by the town for 13 years and has managed the town's records, including finances, since 2001. The council's vote to terminate her was 4-3.

The same council members who voted to fire her are the ones she confronted about the illegal meeting the day before,according to a police report filed Tuesday.

"I did not resign because I have done my job 100 percent," a teary-eyed Blackwell said after the meeting. "I know it was a personal issue. It was not my job performance."

On Monday afternoon, Blackwell told council members Earl Taylor, Jack Taylor, Maxine Wood and Toby Gladden that they were holding an illegal meeting after the four council members had gathered at Town Hall. State law prohibits public bodies from holding unannounced meetings, and a majority of council members gathered together constitutes a meeting.

Including the mayor, Great Falls' council has seven members.

According to the police report, the four council members came to Town Hall and went inside a front room. When they asked Blackwell to join them, she told them they were in an illegal meeting, the report stated.

That's when Councilman Jack Taylor began to raise is voice and demanded that she set up a meeting for the following day, according to the report.

When Blackwell told him the mayor called all the council meetings, Jack Taylor told her that he had been told the council could call a meeting, and she could either set it up or have another employee arrange it, the report stated.

Jack Taylor also waved his finger in her face, and Blackwell felt threatened by his movements, according to the report. Police don't plan to file charges in the case.

When reached at home after the meeting, Jack Taylor said he didn't know about the police report and wouldn't talk about the allegations contained in it.

"No, I can't comment on nothing till I check it out and see what's going on," he said.

Both Jack Taylor and his brother, Councilman Earl Taylor, declined to discuss the reason for firing Blackwell. Council members Gladden and Wood could not be reached for comment.

Although he hadn't seen the police report, Earl Taylor disagreed with parts of Blackwell's account when the document was read to him during a phone interview.

He said Mayor H.C. "Speedy" Starnes was given a written request Friday that indicated the majority of the council wanted a special meeting. On Monday, council members went to ask about that request and were told the mayor hadn't talked to the town's attorney, Earl Taylor said.

So they called the S.C. Municipal Association in Columbia to see what they could do, he said.

"They told us that the majority of the council can call a meeting anytime that they need to," Earl Taylor said. "And so that's exactly what happened and what took place."

Later that day, the four council members went to Town Hall to ask Blackwell to arrange the meeting, he said. He denied that his brother waived a finger in Blackwell's face.

"She was asked to come in," Earl Taylor said. "She said, 'Y'all have a illegal meeting because you got four there.' And we weren't having no meeting."

He contends that the majority of council simply showed up to ask Blackwell to set up Tuesday's meeting.

"After that was done, we turned around and we walked out," he said. "So we didn't make no decisions, no nothing like that."

When reached at home after the meeting, Blackwell said she has not been given a reason why she was fired. She's lived in the town since she was 6 years old and worked her way up from a lower-level clerk to her current position.

"I have poured my whole life into that job," she said. "I know I'll get through it, but it's been devastating."

During Tuesday's council meeting, council members stayed in closed session for about two hours. Afterward, Earl Taylor made a motion that Blackwell be terminated.

Councilman Kenneth Johnson asked leaders reconsider firing Blackwell and Starnes added that the decision wasn't about Blackwell's competence.

Johnson, Starnes and council member H.C. Wright voted against firing the clerk.