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Petition drive opposes inlet magistrate choice

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A Murrells Inlet business owner has started a petition to stop state Sen. Ray Cleary from nominating Dave Jolliff as the area’s next magistrate.

Johnny Lewis, an inlet resident and owner of San-Glass Fiberglass Co., started circulating the petition this week. It asks those who live in the community to call on Cleary to “abandon his effort to nominate an unqualified and ill-suited candidate,” and nominate Steve Pop instead.

“Steve Pop is a local man who has been in law enforcement here for a long time and I feel he’s the most qualified for the job,” Lewis said. “I knew the previous judge, Bill Moeller, before he became judge. He’s done a great job and I feel Steve Pop could follow up right where he left off.”

Moeller, who turns 72 in February, will retire this year after 19 years as magistrate.

In his search for a replacement, Cleary interviewed Pop, 41, who has been an officer with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources for 13 years. But he said he believes Jolliff is a better fit for the position.

Jolliff, 36, moved to Murrells Inlet about six months ago and has spent the past two years working with federal, state and Horry County authorities to arrest and prosecute high-level drug dealers. He has been in law enforcement since 1998.

Cleary’s choice has been criticized by a segment of inlet residents and county officials, including Sheriff Lane Cribb, since it was announced last month. They take issue with the fact that Jolliff only recently moved to Murrells Inlet, and questionable content on social networking pages Jolliff said he set up as part of his undercover police work.

Cleary said the petition won’t affect his decision to nominate Jolliff.

“I sat in on the interviews, I had the resumés, and the state says don’t pick your friends, pick the best candidate. I think I have,” Cleary said. “If they wanted a senator to support the good ol’ boy system, they picked the wrong one.”

Cleary said he believes it’s a small group of people who oppose his nomination of Jolliff.

“What you’re hearing is not ‘Dave is somebody who can’t do the job,’ ” Cleary said. “Their complaint is that he’s not their person. At the end of the day, if I picked Jesus Christ, they wouldn’t be happy. It’s their way or the highway and that’s not how it’s supposed to work.

“Maybe what we need to do is change the rule and have the magistrate be an elected position.”

Cleary said he has started introducing Jolliff to folks in the community and has gotten a very good response.

“Not one person has called me and said ‘you’re making a mistake’ ” after meeting Jolliff, he said.

Lewis said he doesn’t know Jolliff, but he knows Pop and that’s enough to tell him who the best candidate for the job is. The petition will show how many people support Pop over Jolliff, he added.

“It’s only a day old, but we’ve gathered a considerable number of names,” he said Tuesday.

Folks have been stopping by his office to sign. Lewis and a few others have also been circulating the petition door to door.

They decided not to leave it out in a public place, because he wants it to be an accurate reflection of the desire of people who live in Murrells Inlet.

“We want sincere signatures of the citizens of Murrells Inlet,” he said. “We don’t want to put it in a bar where it can be 10 o’clock at night and everybody’s drinking and having a good time and just decides I’m going to sign this petition,” he said.

If the petition doesn’t succeed in making Cleary reconsider his decision, some are hopeful it might convince Gov.-elect Nikki Haley not to appoint Jolliff.

Cleary said he’s not worried about that.

“Remember Alan Walters?” he asked. “He was appointed by Arthur Ravenel and there was some friction.”

The governor at the time, Jim Hodges, was initially concerned but appointed Walters anyway.

What it comes down to, Cleary said, is whether the nominee is capable of doing the job and Cleary said there is no question that Jolliff is capable.

As for Pop, he said he has accepted and respects Cleary’s decision.

“I want it understood that the petition was not at my request,” he said. But he is “flattered” by the show of support.

“The fine people in Murrells Inlet are a tenacious and motivated group,” he said.

“The people around here stand behind one another and I admire that... I’m very proud to be in this community and that’s one of the reasons I’m proud.”

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