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UPDATED: City of Chester makes offer for finance director

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By Staff Reports

After two years of fits, starts and near-misses, the City of Chester may finally have itself a finance director.

At a special called meeting on Monday afternoon, Councilwoman Linda Tinker (who serves on the city’s finance committee) introduced the names of three finalists for the position. One of those names, that of Annie McDaniel, was a familiar one as she was actually offered the post last summer before an impasse over salary demands led to the reopening of the search. The other two were Oscar Baker Jr. and Juanita Glover.

“We had three good candidates,” said Councilwoman Susan Kovas. “I believe, though, that only one  candidate can straighten out our financial situation.”

With that, Kovas made a motion to extend a conditional offer of employment to Baker. That passed 4-2 with Tinker, Kovas, Councilwoman Betty Bagley and Mayor George Caldwell voting in favor or and council members Annie Reid and Carlos Williams voting against. Council members William “Budda” Killian and Angela Douglas arrived at the meeting shortly after the vote and William King was absent.

The city has been attempting to replace former Finance Director Josh McNeal since his departure for a job in North Carolina in late October of 2015. The job was advertised for a period of 30 after McNeal resigned, but the council expressed dissatisfaction with the shallow pool of applicants and extended the application period for another 30 days. Even after that extension, the city had only drawn seven interested applicants. That prompted another extension, but the council didn’t bring the vacancy up again until a month later and even then the focus was on the candidate screening process and not on setting up interviews or trying to attract more candidates. According to the city handbook, the normal hiring procedure calls for the city administrator and human resources director to initially review the applicants and eliminate any that don't meet the listed criteria or that come with "red flags.” The council reviews the rest and conducts interviews with chosen candidates before deciding which person to offer conditional employment to. The council opted to disregard that language and to have a committee select three finalists but for all council members to receive every application received. That decision was made because some members of the council expressed a belief that qualified candidates were being unjustly eliminated from the process. Once that decision was made, there was no open-session discussion of the issue until July of last year when it was announced that five candidates were being considered. After a month, two candidates were announced as finalists in Tamika Shiggs, the then-interim finance director and accountant for the City of Hardeeville and McDaniel, a special projects coordinator for the Charleston County School District and member of the Fairfield County School Board. The normal process of naming "not less than three" finalists (as prescribed by the state’s Freedom of Information Act) was not followed in that instance because the process had taken so long by that time that all the other candidates had found other jobs or simply lost interest. The council voted unanimously to extend a conditional offer of employment to McDaniel, but five days later at a special called meeting, multiple members of the council said they were unable to meet her financial demands, with her salary request stretching nearly $10,000 beyond the top listed salary for the job of $61,998. Killian openly questioned whether the city even wanted the best-qualified people for its openings, a criticism he has brought back up every time the position has been discussed. He has since said the city made a low ball offer to McDaniel. The position continued being advertised on the city website with the top of the salary range has increased, to $65,774. Kelly Wascher, a CPA, has been working as the city’s interim finance director for some time, but Douglas and others recently complained that with Wascher not being a full-time employee, she was not able to devote all her time attention to the city’s books. Chester has fallen a year behind on completing audits and is having some state funds withheld as a result. A recent audit discussion indicated that the city is expecting there to be findings in the audit.

The News & Reporter has requested copies of the applications of the three finalists through the Freedom of Information Act.