Politicians can sometimes get themselves into trouble for what they don’t say. That’s certainly true in Clemson, where a severance agreement with former city administrator Rick Cotton became controversial.
When Cotton resigned in January, he was given a full year of paid severance totaling more than $137,000. Several members of city council told The Journal that they didn’t believe that accepting Cotton’s resignation would mean having to pay him a severance. But they also believed it was time to move on from the controversy.
Some people would consider paying a resigning city official a full year of pay to be the worst thing they could have done. It isn’t — some of them admitting that they didn’t read the memorandum of understanding before they voted on it and keeping the public in the dark about this $137,000 decision until after it was approved are far worse.
Clemson city government, like all governments, operates off the money collected from local citizens, and it was disturbing, to say the least — or a political agenda at most — for any member of Clemson City Council to claim they didn’t understand that severance pay was part of Cotton’s resignation.
The lesson to come out of this should be better communication, not only among themselves, but with the people who put them in office. That’s especially true as Clemson tries to make long-term plans about future growth and development within the city while also dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The members of Clemson City Council understand how the pandemic has affected their ability to get adequate citizen comments and participation on the moratorium issue.
The bottom line for government — at any level — is that transparency should be the centerpiece of how our elected leaders always conduct the public’s business, not a promise to make after a mistake is made.
Paying former city administrator Rick Cotton a year’s worth of a salary was a mistake for the city of Clemson. But it was a far bigger mistake for city council members to approve something they didn’t understand or simply did not read — and an even bigger mistake to leave the citizens in the dark.