Great Falls election prompts protest

GREAT FALLS -- Chester County Sheriff's deputy Darryl Washington plans to challenge the South Carolina constitution over his now-controversial election to the Great Falls Town Council.

Washington's election to the Town Council on Tuesday is being protested by two of his opponents who claim he's trying to hold two public offices, a practice banned by the state constitution.

The Herald obtained copies of documents faxed to Washington by the S.C. attorney general's office prior to the election warning him of the conflict. But Washington, a school resource officer at Great Falls High School, said he isn't backing down.

"We're gonna let a court decide this," Washington told The Herald on Thursday. "I'm not leaving (the council) unless they haul me out."

Unsuccessful candidates Gene Franklin and Randy Beckham filed a letter of protest Thursday with the Great Falls Election Committee, saying Washington cannot hold the council seat because he is employed as a Chester County Sheriff's deputy. The protest cites the state constitution, which prohibits a public office holder from holding a second public office, said Great Falls Election Committee Chairman Wilson Kennington.

"It's not against the law for him to run," Kennington said. "But sooner or later, he's gonna have to decide which one he wants to do."

Washington's bid to hold both offices likely will be opposed by the S.C. attorney general's office.

"We believe a sheriff's deputy also serving as a member of town council would constitute dual office holding under the S.C. Constitution," attorney general's office spokesman Mark Plowden said in an e-mail Thursday.

The constitution does not prevent a public employee, such as a firefighter or a schoolteacher, from holding a public office. To be considered a dual office holder, a person must hold two public offices which involve "an exercise of some portion of the sovereign power of the state," Article 17, Section 1A of the state constitution states, such as a law enforcement officer or a judge.

Washington's quest also goes against several previous opinions from the attorney general's office, including a 1995 opinion in which the attorney general ruled a Newberry County Sheriff's deputy could not also serve as a Newberry City Council member.

The attorney general's previous opinions on the issue were faxed to Washington at his office at Great Falls High School on March 20, according to copies of the documents.

Washington was the top vote-getter out of a nine-person field in Tuesday's at-large election for three council seats. The top three were Washington (149 votes), Jimmy Williams (129 votes) and Joyce Autry (106 votes).

Randy Beckham, who filed the protest with his brother-in-law Gene Franklin, finished in last place with 23 votes. Franklin received 94.

"I'm not doing this for me, I'm doing it for my brother-in-law because he was so close," Beckham said, noting he didn't discover the law in question until Wednesday, after the election was over. "I like Darryl. He's a darn good guy. But I want it done fair. ... If the court holds to the law, he's gonna have to choose which job he wants."

If Washington moves forward and is sworn-in as a councilman, he could risk losing his day job as a deputy.

"The law has a provision that if he decides to take office, he'll be automatically resigning his previous post," Chester County Elections Commission Director Earl Moore said, citing the state constitution. "So, he better do his homework."

If Washington gives up his council post, a special election will be held to elect a replacement, Moore said.

Joyce Autry and Jimmy Williams, the other two winners in Tuesday's at-large race, will keep their seats.