Sel Hemingway (copy)

Hemingway

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two-part series where Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway addresses claims raised in a press conference the local NAACP branch held on May 31.

“He can’t catch a break.”

That was among the sentiments one person shared about Georgetown County Administrator Sel Hemingway on social media after watching a press conference the local NAACP branch held on Friday.

The commenter was among a large group of well-wishers for Hemingway, who last week announced his plans to retire at the end of the year. Others thanked him for his years serving the county and for the long hours he puts into the job.

On May 28, Hemingway told County Council members he plans to retire. The following day, he informed the county’s department heads.

The Coastal Observer first reported the news of Hemingway’s retirement last Thursday.

The Georgetown branch of the NAACP held a press conference Friday morning on the lawn of the county administration office on Prince Street.

Marvin Neal, president of the local branch, called for a forensic audit of county finances. He also said that the NAACP believes that June 30 – the end of the current fiscal year – would be a good time for Hemingway’s departure.

Interviewed by phone on Sunday, Hemingway told the Georgetown Times he’s been planning to retire for about a year-and-a-half.

“I had kind of targeted next January. I will be 66, and will be eligible for Social Security and state retirement,” he said.

Both of his brothers have been asking him about helping with their businesses. Rick Hemingway has the Backcountry Quail Club near the Rhems community, and Bill Hemingway has H&S Oil Co.

And then there’s the grandchildren – 14 of them. Sel Hemingway and his wife, Kathy, try to be involved with their grandkids. He admits that wife Kathy does most of the babysitting and picking up and dropping off, but he’s planning on spending more time with them and with their children once he retires.

“They’re all right here, within 20 miles of my house. And nobody’s bashful to call about a babysitter, or pick somebody up or whatever.”

“My target date for the announcement was June, to give council time for doing a search, getting applications in, picking a shortlist, interviewing, and for the successful candidate to give notice wherever he or she might be,” Hemingway said.

“Of course, all of the series of events that took place since that — some will think (my announcement) is because of Austin Beard, Scott (Proctor) leaving, or other events.”

“I am sincerely, brutally honest at what the process has been, and the timing,” he said. “I’m doing what I planned to do, and anybody can draw whatever conclusions.”

“(Finance Director) Scott announced his retirement to staff about two weeks ago, but he had told me about six weeks or two months ago. His birthday is in December, so his thought process is pretty much the same,” Hemingway said.

“His retirement date is right at the end of the year.”

The Georgetown Times also talked with Jackie Broach-Akers, the county’s public information officer, on Friday after the NAACP press conference. She noted that the county has seven department heads, each of whom has been with the county for a number of years.

Hemingway said he doesn’t know of any other retirements that are pending.

Pay raises, evaluations

During the NAACP press conference, one of the main points of contention was the pay increases that Hemingway and Beth Goodale, director of the county Parks and Recreation Department, have received over the past 10 years or so.

Hemingway and Broach-Akers both said that all county employees – to include Hemingway and Goodale – received the same percentage pay raises, or pay cuts over the past decade.

“I think the first year I was here, the recession (of 2008-2009) hit, and we took a 3 percent pay cut,” Hemingway said. “Then there were several years where we didn’t have any increase at all.”

Once the economy got somewhat better, across-the-board pay raises were reinstituted.

“If there was a 3 percent Cost of Living raise, it went to me, too.” The same applied to Goodale.

Another issue for the NAACP was that no one they spoke with on County Council was aware of evaluations for Hemingway and Goodale. Neal said he would submit a FOIA request for evaluations.

“There has not been a ‘formal evaluation’,” Hemingway said. “Which there never was to my memory when Tommy (Edwards) was here.”

Prior to being named administrator in 2008, Hemingway was chairman of County Council for several years when Edwards held was administrator.

“The chairman would receive comments from other members (of council), and would share them with the administrator,” Hemingway said. “But, there has not been any formal evaluation.”

As for Goodale and other department heads, “I don’t do evaluations,” Hemingway said.

“When we stopped having funds to do merit increases, we haven’t done those formal-type evaluations,” he said.

He noted that he meets with every director on a one-on-one basis every month.

Those meetings are used to go over whatever issues may come up with a given department. That also includes any budget concerns, working on the budget for the coming year, projects for the department and generally monitoring the department throughout the year.

Racial composition of county employees

Neal, with the NAACP, said that there is racial inequality in county government.

Ray Funnye, director of Public Services, is the only department head who is black.

Neal said he believes there is racism in hiring and in pay raises for minority employees. Others also shared their thoughts on the issue during the press conference.

The NAACP has not provided evidence for its claims.

Broach-Akers noted that all but one of the department heads has been in place for a number of years.

Hemingway told the Georgetown Times that of the county’s total of 597 employees, 34.6 percent are black. According to the Census Bureau population estimate as of July 1, 2018, the county has 62,249 people. Of that number, 66.4 percent are white while the African-American population is 31.5 percent.

Budget discussions

Wesley Gibson and others at the press conference said that the county needed to have more discussion about the county budget. During the May 28 council meeting, no council members asked questions or offered comments or discussions before passing a second vote on the budget.

Hemingway said at that meeting, and during at least some of the four budget workshops held since March, that the proposed budget for 2020 is not sustainable. It will be a balanced budget because the county is using reserve funds.

Hemingway reiterated to the Times that he said to County Council, “I want to remind you that this is not a sustainable model. We need to go to work as soon as possible, discussing and debating various issues that can be taken to address that.”

When Council begins those discussions, Hemingway said, “In general, one thing will be, is there any opportunity to increase revenues, and are there any ways to minimize or decrease expenses?”

“The growth of expenses is outpacing the growth of revenue.”

“That is affected by state retirement, gasoline prices, healthcare costs, and to some degree those natural disaster events. Hopefully we can skip a year,” Hemingway said.

When a hurricane or named tropical storm strikes the area, state and federal – FEMA – funds will often reimburse the county for costs incurred in dealing with the storm.

The expected flooding from Hurricane Florence in September 2018 led Georgetown County and other counties and municipalities to make preparations to deal with the floodwaters. As it turned out, the flooding was not as severe as many people thought. Consequently, the FEMA and state reimbursements didn’t “kick in.”

Hemingway estimated that costs borne by Georgetown County for its general fund, law enforcement and both fire departments were close to $300,000.

“God knows what the state had to pay, putting in those aqua-dams and all that kind of stuff, that turned out not to be needed,” he said.

The second part of this series will be published in the June 7 edition of the Georgetown Times.