Berkeley County filed a civil suit against former County Supervisor William W. Peagler III and Timothy Callanan, former deputy supervisor and CFO, on July 27, for allegedly issuing thousands of dollars in severance pay illegally.
The civil suit filed in state court claims that the county is seeking “to recover public funds that were paid as part of an illegal and bad faith scheme concocted by two outgoing public officials on the eve of their departure from Berkeley County” and details several causes of action against Peagler and Callanan, including breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and unjust enrichment.
Peagler served as supervisor from January 2015 through December 2018. Callanan was hired shortly after Peagler took office.
In 2018, Peagler lost his bid for another term in the GOP primary and his opponent, Johnny Cribb, facing no Democratic opposition, secured the county supervisor seat.
At issue is $49,900 severance package paid to Callanan as well as additional funds paid by the county to Callanan at or around his departure.
In November 2018, The Daniel Island News reported that at a special meeting of the Berkeley County Council on Nov. 13, Councilman Josh Whitley told the council and the audience that Peagler had “greatly failed” the people of Berkeley County and County Council.
At the time, Whitley told those gathered that Peagler had authorized a check for $49,900 that was not approved by council to be issued to Callanan, who was placed on paid administrative leave the week prior. According to Whitley, the funds were allegedly taken as part of what Peagler called a “severance agreement” approved in an executive session in October 2018, but Whitley stated council never authorized such an agreement or payout. He also told those gathered at the 2018 meeting that “council cannot take any action in executive session.”
“Never were monies appropriated by council for the expenditure of $49,900 for a severance package,” Whitley said at the time. “Never did the council agree to a severance contract. I’ll even note that we have a copy of the severance agreement between the deputy supervisor and the supervisor, and the county attorney never saw it, wrote it, got an opinion on it, (and) was not consulted before this was executed between the supervisor and deputy supervisor.”
According to Whitley, the check came from county funds. In response, the County Council voted to terminate Callanan, seek a SLED investigation into the possible misappropriation of funds, and freeze Peagler’s authority to expend any more county money that had not already been appropriated.
With regards to the funds issued to Callanan, Whitley reported at the 2018 meeting that Peagler ordered Berkeley County Finance Director Allen Milburn to write a check to Callanan for $49,900 on Friday, Nov. 9, 2018. Whitley also claimed that the near $50,000 would come from the funds for the salary of the next deputy supervisor, “effectively limiting [future supervisor] Mr. [Johnny] Cribb from hiring a deputy supervisor.” The check, Whitley said, was immediately cashed, so council could not halt it.
The lawsuit currently before the court includes similar allegations as to those made at the November 2018 council meeting and states that Callanan “secretly approached Peagler following his defeat and the two concocted a scheme” to issue the funds.
The lawsuit is supported by affidavits filed by Berkeley County Councilman C. Kevin Cox, Berkeley County Finance Director Allen Milburn, and Christy Davis, Director of Procurement for Berkeley County.
At the time of the incident in question, both Peagler and Callanan choose not to comment, except for one statement from Callanan. “I will get my day,” he told a Daniel Island News reporter in 2018. “And the truth will come out.”
Court records indicate that neither Peagler or Callanan have been served with the lawsuit. They will have 30 days following service of the complaint to file a response.
The lawsuit seeks actual and punitive financial damages and a jury trial. Berkeley County is being represented by attorney Walker Humphrey.