By Gregg Bragg, The Island Connection Staff Writer
Dennis Rhoad, the town’s attorney, invoked what he called “personal privilege” during the Town of Kiawah Island’s June 7, 2016 council meeting. He wanted to be first in line for the segment of citizens’ comments scheduled for the end of town meetings.
“I would like to say that in December of 1988 when Ronald Reagan was a lame duck, George Bush ‘Read My Lips’ was coming on the scene, Dennis Rhoad had just qualified to practice law in the State of South Carolina in October of ‘88 and became the town’s attorney in December of 1988,” Rhoad began. It didn’t take long for attendees to guess the preamble would end with his resignation.
There had been a bit of drama during TOKI’s council meeting the previous month. Officials were voting to settle the McGill Freedom of Information lawsuit and councilmembers made plenty of comments, some less pleasant than others. The discussion devolved into an impromptu re-litigation of the case.
Passions were running high, and the town’s attorney circled council chambers in search of popular support that appeared to be lacking. The scene elicited a stern response from Kiawah resident Cathy Pumphrey.
“I sent a letter to council expressing my dismay with the behavior and suggested a public apology, as well as one to Wendy [Kulick] and Dennis McGill was needed,” said Pumphrey in an email to The Island Connection. Rhoad would accommodate the suggestion in the course of a sincere and heartfelt, if lengthy stroll through TOKI history.
“I was here for Hurricane Hugo, okay? I have been here for two hurricanes. The second one, I call it Rucker-Gunnells. That’s the second hurricane I have represented the Town. I don’t care what anybody says. When you have two trusted employees who steal nearly a quarter of a million dollars, that’s a hurricane, okay,” continued Rhoad. He then celebrated his relationships with current councilmembers before sharing some anecdotes from past councils.
“Bill Fowler was a volunteer administrator and his most exciting moment was after the town passed a law saying you could not be disrobed, you could not be naked in the sand dunes. And he came in one day all excited because he had come upon two young lovers in the sand dunes. George Melvin used to walk in here for meetings, he was Lib Melvin’s husband, reeking of fish because he loved to surf fish. Bo Turner, I don’t even know if Bo’s still alive. He was the first Mayor. My first meeting was at 2 Airy Hall and we passed some emergency ordinances. My first task, think about that, now, y’all are talking about building a $10 million building. Now my first task was to borrow $10,000 so we could turn on the lights on the trailer. I mean we had stuff around it so you couldn’t see the wheels, but we could actually move the Town Hall if you had a truck … one of those trucks to pull Town Hall down the road, you know,” Rhoad ruminated.
However pleasant, reminiscing gave way to the more serious matter at hand, and Rhoad brought his presentation back to the present.
“I am proud of representing Kiawah. Have I always given you guy’s absolute correct advice? No. I don’t know any attorney that can make that claim, honestly. Have I always put you first? Yup. Have I always adhere … I don’t really mean adhered … have I [been] concerned about what I felt like under the rules, I could talk with my clients in private? Have I always felt okay about that? Yes. Because confidential discussions between attorneys and clients is probably the most precious thing in a relationship between an attorney and his client,” Rhoad reassured council. He then dove straight into what seemed a heartfelt apology.
“I don’t really care about the other folks, I don’t mean I don’t care, but my loyalty is to my client. First and foremost! And I got personal at the last meeting. And I lost my objectivity. I stand by what I say, believing it to be accurate, but the manner in which I said it was wrong. And that I first and foremost apologize to my client. To my client,” he emphasized. “I apologize to Wendy. I have known her at least 20 years. Twenty-seven years.
I have great respect for her. I apologize to Judge McGill. You know, under different circumstances, we might have been the best of friends, you know? We have the common bond of being lawyers. I think you would agree with me … But I apologize publically to both of you, to all, to everybody that was here,” said Rhoads. “Now, for the newspaper guy, please get this down right, what I am about to say.”
“In January, maybe February of this year, I told my client that I was tired and that I intended to retire on January the first of 2017. Losing my cool last month didn’t have anything to do with that decision. Coming under all the criticism, all the stuff that’s happened with the Rucker/Gunnells’ hurricane, doesn’t have anything to do with that. I have been the town’s attorney for 25 years. I got other stuff I want to do. I love this town, but I’ve got other stuff that I want do. So I am going to resign on January 1. I have already told you guys that,” said Rhoad, his voice breaking with emotion.
“You are the first client I have ever had. Without you guys, I probably would not make a nickel. You gave me the opportunity to have my own practice. I made more money than I ever dreamed of making, not off of Kiawah, but I mean I am not gonna talk about that, but that you guys made it possible with this, helping me pay my bills. Anyway, I apologize and I wish you the best,” he concluded.
Council applauded, congratulated and welcomed the attorney back to his seat behind the dais. The subsequent discussion of how council would proceed, whether to hire a replacement or contract for legal services, was tabled for future discussion, the citizens’ comments resumed.
Asked later what “other stuff” meant, Rhoad responded with an email which read, “I will continue my private practice although at a more measured pace. I also have some other business interests that I want to focus on. I recently inherited a farm in Orangeburg County which I enjoy and hope to enjoy more. Finally, and perhaps the most important ‘things’ are spending more time with my elderly mother and 17 year old nephews who suffer from muscular dystrophy and whose health is deteriorating.”