Picking at nits?
Perhaps some would say that is precisely what this newspaper is doing while others might say that is precisely what Abbeville County's director, Bruce Cooley, did when he insisted the newspaper run a correction a few weeks back.
On Jan. 19, the newspaper published a front-page story regarding the end of Bobby Gladden's job as tax assessor. The newspaper learned earlier in the month Gladden was no longer a county employee and was attempting to learn the details of the public official's departure.
That morning's story began with the words "Why was the Abbeville County tax assessor fired?" and went on to indicate Cooley acknowledged Gladden was fired, but that he, Cooley, could not comment further on a personnel matter.
Cooley contacted the newspaper the day the story published and asked it be corrected. He had not used the word "fired," having only acknowledged Gladden was no longer a county employee.
Fast forward to this past Sunday and the revelations from a follow-up story that came about as a result of the newspaper's filing a Freedom of Information Act request for Gladden's personnel files. The newspaper's full request was not met, but some information was provided and it turns out Gladden was indeed fired. Wait. Just to be sure there's no misunderstanding here, we should say the word used on the personnel document was "terminated." The paperwork, signed by Cooley, gives some details and insight into Gladden's dismissal, saying the tax assessor failed to make planned budget cuts, exhibited a negative attitude and took pictures of the roof leaks at the county Administrative Complex.
South Carolina is a right-to-work state, meaning, really, it's a right to fire state. Essentially, an employer can get away with terminating an employee for just about anything. We get that. For all we know, Gladden was being insubordinate. Then again, for all we know Cooley just flat out didn't like the guy and wanted him out. Scuttlebutt was floating around the county Gladden's taking photos of the roof leak was just further stirring an embarrassing mess for his boss, so, at the very least, he probably lost points for that.
Maybe all of this is much ado about nothing, or much ado about little, to the average person. And maybe it is not. Gladden was a public employee whose post was paid with taxpayer dollars. Cooley is also a public employee. Both are accountable to the people paying their salaries. For that reason, the taxpayers of Abbeville County have a right to know what happened to cause Gladden to lose his job. This is the public, not private, sector. And the public sector operates under different rules.
Is it really nit-picking when the newspaper says Gladden was fired and is then told it needs to correct the story by the same man who only a couple of weeks later acknowledges he "terminated" the employee? Or is that just further evidence of why the public's business must be conducted in a different light than private business?
Gladden was terminated as Abbeville County's tax assessor for various reasons outlined in the personnel files that were provided. That much is known. What remains to be known is whether it was a termination of a public employee with just cause or as retribution.
Quibbling over word choices is all well and good sometimes, but in this case, let's get to what really maters: the truth surrounding Gladden's termination.