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Murrells Inlet magistrate: Cleary rejects calls for committee to screen applicants

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The appointment of a screening committee to assist in the selection of a new Murrells Inlet magistrate would “add some needed transparency” to the process, according to Murrells Inlet residents, including members of a community group.

State law allows local senators to appoint committees to help them pick nominees for magistrate positions, but Sen. Ray Cleary said he doesn’t see the need in this case.

Bill Moeller, the Murrells Inlet magistrate for 19 years, will turn 72 in February and is required by state statute to leave office by the end of the fiscal year. Cleary selected Dave Jolliff of Murrells Inlet, a law enforcement officer since 1998, to take over the position, but the decision has sparked an outcry from some inlet residents.

While a number of residents want Steve Pop, a game warden with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, for the position, others just want more say in who the nominee is.

“I feel like the concerns expressed by the people are not being adequately addressed,” said Bill Chandler, president of Preserve Murrells Inlet. “I would like to see an open dialogue.”

The group recently called on Cleary to further consider candidates for the job and make the public better informed about how and why his nominee is selected.

State law also allows for a special election to fill the position of magistrate. The senatorial members of the county delegation would have to direct the county election commission to conduct the election.

With more than five months before Moeller has to leave office, Tom Swatzel, an inlet resident who has criticized Cleary’s decision, said there’s time to start the selection process over using one of these methods. He hasn’t spoken to Cleary about it yet.

“I think it would result in more public confidence in the outcome of the process,” Swatzel said.

Chandler said he would support either method while Leon Rice, another of Preserve Murrells Inlet’s board members favors a screening committee.

“That’s a lot more practical than a special election,” Rice said.

If the process started all over again with a committee, “then at least the public would feel like they considered more than one man,” Rice said. “I don’t know how this guy was selected in the first place.”

If nothing else, Chandler said Cleary should consider having a series of small public meetings to talk with community members.

Cleary will not waver in his choice to nominate Jolliff, he said. He’s seen screening committees tried in two or three other counties and “it didn’t seem to work well.”

Cleary considered many candidates for the position and took into account the opinions of people who contacted him about the position, he said. Pop was among those he interviewed, but he said he is confident Jolliff is the best person for the position and that he will be appointed by Gov. Nikki Haley.

“The bottom line is that the responsibility for picking lies solely with the senators in the area,” Cleary said. “It does not call for a public vote or public opinion polls. It’s my responsibility and my prerogative to choose who I think is best and I’ve done that.”

Jolliff, 36, said he is surprised by the controversy surrounding his selection.

“I wasn’t prepared for this storm,” he said. “It’s kind of a different atmosphere for me. I’m not used to this world of politics and all the negativity, but I will adjust. I’m not going to let it get me down.

“I will do a good job and hopefully that will alleviate this problem. I’m going to be very fair and I’m going to be part of this community. I will have an open-door policy.”

Jolliff said he wishes folks would at least make the effort to get to know him before judging him.

“Some people are saying stuff about me and I’ve never even met them,” he said. “That bothers me.”

Jolliff has spent the last two years working with federal, state and Horry County authorities to arrest and prosecute high-level drug dealers. He resigned from his position effective Dec. 31.

Jolliff felt leaving the department was a necessary step because of the nature of the work he was doing, he said. He often worked undercover.

“I didn’t want all this attention to take away from the work,” he said. “It’s a very low-key job as far as trying to remain low profile.”

Jolliff is also an ordained youth pastor who gives drug education presentations to area youth groups, but he’ll step back from that as well to focus on the job of magistrate.

Despite the controversy that has arisen since Cleary announced Jolliff as his choice for magistrate, Jolliff said he’s not worried he won’t get the job.

“I think it will all pan out,” he said. “I’m confident that everything will go forward and I’m very appreciative of Sen. Cleary’s confidence in me.”

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