Originally created 05/04/04

Council members take oath



NEW ELLENTON - The city swore in three new council members Monday, all of whom said they were eager to find out why New Ellenton's police chief was being investigated, with hopes that the 3-month-old inquiry could be quickly resolved.

Mark Key, Mike Kellems and Ricky Foster, all members of the city's volunteer fire department who were elected March 30, will take their seats on the council May 17.

At a brief ceremony at city hall, they agreed they wanted to find out why Police Chief Van McMillan had been put on temporary leave Feb. 6. They said they would immediately ask current council members for information.

"It's been lurking for a long time," Mr. Foster said. "It's got to be taken care of."

Councilman Joe Gleaton said the city council had viewed search warrants the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division served Feb. 4 and knew why Chief McMillan was being investigated. But he and other council members said they won't say anything until after SLED completes its investigation.

"We just can't release it because it's still under investigation," Mayor Jim Sutherland said.

SLED officials took a computer, related software, and time and work records, according to a statement the city council issued in February. Investigators have not commented except to say Aiken County Magistrate Judge Carolyn Neal contacted SLED.

She hasn't replied to requests for comment, and Magistrate Judge Tracey L. Carroll, who approved SLED's search warrants, has not released them.

The investigation has sparked speculation from some residents that Chief McMillan is being discriminated against because he is black. Acts of harassment the chief has reported since he was put on leave - his car windshield was smashed April 6 - and an argument between him and a city clerk have heightened tensions.

"There are a few people that want to make a racial issue out of everything," Mr. Key said. "We're just going to look at the facts that were part of the whole deal."

Chief McMillan says he's innocent and is eager for the investigation to end, as is Councilwoman Debbie Pritchett.

"I think that it needs to be expedited," she said. "We need some closure. The citizens need closure."

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803)279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.