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Murrells Inlet magistrate: Cleary will try a different tack with next pick

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

State Sen. Ray Cleary isn’t allowing public input on who he nominates for a magistrate’s seat opening in Murrells Inlet, but that won’t be the case the next time there’s a vacancy.

For future appointments, Cleary will designate a committee to review candidates and recommend a nominee.

“Luke Rankin did it that way and it didn’t turn out too well,” Cleary said. “I think he’s gone back to doing it the other way, but I’ll give it a try. At the end of the day, I’m willing to learn.”

Cleary made the decision after hearing repeated and vociferous complaints about his pick for Murrells Inlet magistrate, Dave Jolliff. A number of residents are angry because they didn’t have any say about who Cleary chose and weren’t given enough information about others who were considered for the job.

Town hall meetings to discuss candidates, a nominating committee and even an election were proposed by residents as solutions.

Cleary was listening, he said, and he’s willing to try selection by committee — just not in the matter of the Murrells Inlet seat. Cleary’s choice has already been made there and Jolliff quit his job as an undercover narcotics investigator last year to accept it.

Jolliff is currently undergoing a background check by a private investigator Cleary hired after Jolliff’s character and work record came under fire.

Cleary is expecting a report on the investigation sometime next week.

In picking a selection committee to recommend nominees, Cleary would appoint community leaders, but not those in elected offices or with strong ties to any political party, he said. He would look for those he is confident could be objective.

“I don’t want people who would pick their friends,” Cleary said, alluding to opponents of Jolliff who he said favored another candidate for the job based more on the fact that they like him than on qualifications.

“I would want people who are neutral and wouldn’t make decisions based on preconceived notions.”

A number of those who oppose Cleary’s nomination of Jolliff haven’t met Jolliff and refused to do so, basing their opinions on what they’ve heard from others, Cleary said.

If Cleary gets a clean report on Jolliff as he expects, he’ll move forward with his nomination, though he isn’t certain how long it will take for an appointment by the governor to take place.

“I’ve already started the process to a degree,” he said.

Jolliff made two recent trips to Columbia to meet with Cleary’s investigator and, while Jolliff was there, Cleary took the opportunity to introduce him to the governor’s assistant, as well as state Sen. Yancey McGill, who signed off on the nomination.

“The only thing that matters is, number one, that Sen. McGill agrees he’s a good candidate and so does the governor,” Cleary said.

Jolliff hasn’t been introduced to the governor yet.

While Cleary said he hopes the background check will ease residents concerns about Jolliff, he said he doesn’t think opposition to Jolliff as the nominee will affect his ability to serve effectively as magistrate once appointed.

As for what effects the nomination might have on Cleary’s political career, he recognizes it might cost him his next election.

“I would rather lose by the right decision than win by the wrong decision,” he said.

And he’s convinced that nominating Jolliff is the right decision.

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