Chester County Council suspends clerk for allegedly altering meeting minutes

Shane Stuart
Shane Stuart

The Chester County Council on Thursday upheld the firing of a county employee accused of altering council meeting minutes from her job as administrative assistant to the county supervisor, but suspended her in her role as clerk to council.

County Supervisor Shane Stuart on Tuesday fired Carolyn Clayton – who is both the clerk to council and Stuart’s administrative assistant – and information technology consultant Eddie Buchanan.

Stuart told sheriff’s deputies that the two broke the law when minutes from the County Council’s April 20 meeting were changed, allegedly to remove “defamatory” comments Clayton made on a recording of the meeting.

Deputies are investigating because altering or destroying public records – minutes are required to be kept by law – is a misdemeanor crime.

Some County Council members asked for Thursday’s specially called meeting because the clerk to council is a position that is appointed by the council, not by the county supervisor. After an hour-long meeting held in executive session, the council unanimously agreed to suspend Clayton from her job as clerk to council until they can get guidance from the county’s human resources department concerning Clayton and her position as clerk.

Clayton has admitted altering the April 20 minutes after she said that she inadvertently left the a recording device running when the County Council went into executive session. She made remarks that the county attorney and county physician positions should be filled through a public bidding process like other jobs, Clayton said, then asked Buchanan to change the recording to delete her comments.

In an interview with The Herald on Tuesday, Clayton denied destroying any property and said she was wrongfully terminated for exercising free speech.

Under state law, the clerk to council is appointed by and reports to the County Council, not to the county supervisor, county attorney Joan Winters said after the meeting. Clayton, in her role as administrative assistant, reports directly to Stuart.

So the firing of Clayton as Stuart’s administrative assistant stands, Winters said, but Clayton is “suspended pending additional information” about the clerk position.

When Stuart took office in March, S.C. Association of Counties staff went to Chester for a workshop to go over for Stuart, a new employee, the specifics of who reported to him and who did not. Stuart and council members are clear that clerk to council reports to the council, Winters said, and Stuart on Tuesday had made it clear that he was firing Clayton from her job as administrative assistant, not as clerk to council.

That distinction, however, was not made when Clayton’s firing was made public.

Councilman John Wayne Holcombe said after the meeting that the council needed to find out more information before moving forward, so that’s why he made a motion to suspend Clayton as clerk. She will be paid while on suspension, he said.

The County Council could act on Clayton’s future as soon as Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting.

Stuart, a former police officer, said after the meeting that he stands by the decision to fire Clayton because no public record – whether it’s written minutes, an audiotape or a video – should be changed.

“You can’t change the document or alter the video,” he said. “You have to have it in its entirety.

“You can’t take out the parts you don’t like.”

Clayton was not in the April 20 executive session meeting. The allegation of her changing the minutes is based solely on what she allegedly said on the recording of the open session.

Clayton worked for 13 years for former County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey, whom Stuart defeated in a special election last month. Stuart said Clayton’s long tenure working for Roddey had nothing to do with her being fired. He said all other county employees who were employed under Roddey remain on the job.

Efforts to reach Clayton for comment were unsuccessful Thursday.

As a consultant working on a contract basis, Winters said, Buchanan was not a county employee, and Stuart had the authority to terminate his contract. Buchanan admitted to altering the tape at Clayton’s request, but he said he would not have done so if he had known it was a crime.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065