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Murrells Inlet magistrate: Cleary searches for another nominee

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Gov. Nikki Haley was all set to approve the nomination of Dave Jolliff for a magistrate’s position in Murrells Inlet, according to state Sen. Ray Cleary, who made the nomination.

Claims from those who opposed the nomination that a pending rejection from Haley was the reason for Jolliff’s withdrawal late last week are “totally untrue,” he said.

“To be honest, the governor told me he vetted fine, but I told her to hold off,” Cleary said.

He and Jolliff realized that inlet residents who loudly and repeatedly said Jolliff was a bad choice weren’t going to go away and that would negatively impact Jolliff’s ability to do the job he was being hired for.

After talking with his family, friends and attorney, David DuRant, Jolliff decided extracting himself from the situation was the best option.

“In spite of my strong desire to serve, I refuse to have my character and reputation tarnished as a pawn by those who are using me as a political football,” Jolliff said in the letter to Cleary making his withdrawal official.

Jolliff’s character and work history came under severe, public attack after his nomination was announced in December. He laid much of the blame for the firestorm on rivals at the Horry County Police Department, where he was employed until Dec. 31, when he resigned to accept the magistrate’s nomination.

A background check on Jolliff, ordered and paid for by Cleary in response to the attacks, came back clean last week.

The investigator, a retired assistant director of the State Law Enforcement Division, even said Jolliff would “make an excellent magistrate.”

But Cleary said the findings were held in question by opponents of Jolliff because the investigation was paid for by Cleary.

Cleary expected that would be the case, but wanted to see it through in hopes it would allow Jolliff to “vindicate himself.”

“If I had dropped him, which would have been the politically correct thing to do, he would have always had a black mark on his record,” Cleary said.

Cleary and Jolliff are both ready to move on, and for Cleary that means starting a new search for a magistrate. He said he has received about half a dozen new résumés since Jolliff’s withdrawal and will reconsider those he received earlier. “There are some very good ones,” Cleary said.

He will continue accepting résumés through next week, then start interviewing candidates. He considered enlisting citizens to help screen candidates, but said the people he approached were reluctant because of the Jolliff controversy.

The dispute over Jolliff also deterred some candidates. Several who previously expressed interest dropped out after seeing what Jolliff went through, Cleary said. A few who live in Horry County and were still interested won’t be considered. One complaint about Jolliff was that, though he grew up in the Murrells Inlet area, he was from Horry County. He only moved to Georgetown County a few months ago.

That was a complaint state Rep. Kevin Ryan made in a letter to Haley asking her to reject the nomination. Ryan told her Sgt. Steve Pop would be a better choice.

This time around, Cleary said he will limit his search to those with a history in Georgetown County. Pop, 41, a Litchfield resident is among contenders, Cleary said. Pop has been a state wildlife officer for 13 years and is the preferred nominee of a number of inlet residents.

A petition asking Cleary to nominate Pop instead of Jolliff was started by Johnny Lewis in January. The petition was signed by nearly 300 people, according to Lewis, an inlet resident and owner of San-Glass Fiberglass. He declined to share the names on the petition, but said he sent it to Cleary Wednesday with a letter urging Cleary to send Pop’s nomination to Haley soon.

Cleary hadn’t seen the petition Wednesday afternoon, but said it wouldn’t be “significant” to his choice of nominee. He said he questions the validity of some of the signatures after hearing reports from some signers who told him they had been approached by waitresses at Prosser’s restaurant who told them to sign if they “wanted justice in Murrells Inlet.”

Cleary said he won’t nominate Pop just because he’s well liked. “I don’t pick friends,” Cleary said. “I pick the most qualified person and, at the end of the day, if he is the most qualified, I’ll pick him.”

Pop said he is “definitely still interested” in the position. “I’m going to try it again,” he said. “I’m going to submit my résumé like anybody else and hope for a better outcome this time.”

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