Originally created 02/08/00

Elections chief calls it quits



AIKEN -- After much deliberation and with a heavy heart, long-time Aiken City Election Commissioner H.A. "Mac" McClearen turned in his resignation Monday.

He was disappointed with Aiken City Council's "overreaction" to his role as state Rep. Robert S. "Skipper" Perry's campaign manager and upset by the stand the council took on a "jumbled" state law that prevents city election commissioners from showing any kind of support for local, state or national political candidates, he said.

"That law has been sitting there for years," said Mr. McClearen, who has served on the commission for more than a decade. "I don't know why they had to drop the hammer now, in this big election year. I'm not angry, but I don't think this is necessary."

In his resignation letter, Mr. McClearen stated, "I have not knowingly violated any oath or trust placed in me."

Scott Singer, who was defeated by Mr. Perry for the House District 81 seat, prompted city council to investigate the matter a month before the election.

Mr. Singer had no comment on Mr. McClearen's decision to quit.

Although Mr. McClearen was not reprimanded, city council admitted last month that he should not have managed Mr. Perry's campaign while he was on the election commission. But the state law that prohibits commissioners from participating in political campaigns is ambiguous, officials said.

Aiken City Council asked the state attorney general's office for a formal opinion on the matter, but the decision was deferred back to council because it wasn't a statewide issue.

"The state attorney general could not -- in two attempts -- sort out the jumbled legislation," Mr. McClearen added.

After studying the state law, the council tentatively amended an ordinance clarifying that municipal election commissioners should not participate in a political campaign during their term of office. The amendment, which comes up for a final vote Monday, adds language to the ordinance that specifies what is illegal -- including displaying a bumper sticker or yard sign in support of an election campaign for a political candidate on any level.

Mr. McClearen said the last straw was a letter city election commissioners received from Mayor Fred Cavanaugh, which included an extensive list of political limitations.

"I can't do anything," Mr. McClearen said. "If George W. Bush comes to town, I can't go see him, but the mayor can."

He said he couldn't remain on the sidelines in an election year where everyone from the president to Aiken County coroner is elected.

"(City council) has deprived us of this right and responsibility," he said. "This affects every county in the state."

Mr. McClearen said he feels the General Assembly will address the state law this year in "a logical and sensible manner."

Mr. Perry said, "I think it's sad that the city is losing someone with Mac's integrity because of a law that doesn't make any rhyme or reason.'

Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.