Council Votes Violate FOIA Laws

BLYTHEWOOD – Town Council broke new ground at its regular meeting on Tuesday evening by abandoning parliamentary procedure and flagrantly disregarding the state’s open government laws as they voted on as many items that were not on the agenda as were. Two each. And they voted on a resolution before it came up on the agenda.

The first illegal vote came when Buzzy Myers, president of the Blythewood/Softball Youth League, announced to Council that the League would be hosting a Coaches Pitch All Star Baseball Tournament June 6 – 10 and asked Council for $1,000 to help cover expenses. With no questions asked, Council voted 4-0 (Council Bob Massa was absent) to donate the money from the Town’s Hospitality Fund. It was not explained why the League was not required, as other organizations are, to apply for the funds.

Myers told Council that while this was a Midlands area tournament, it would not put heads in beds, but it would bring a lot of families to the Town’s restaurants.

“Most of these 7-8 year olds are accompanied by several people who spend time and money in the town,” Myers said. “This will bring lots of people here. It will be good for the town.”

A few minutes later, after discussing whether to host a leadership meeting for 40-50 elected officials from Blythewood, Fairfield County and the towns of Winnsboro and Ridgeway, Mayor J. Michael Ross asked the Town Attorney/interim Town Administrator Jim Meggs if Council could vote on the issue. Meggs gave his verbal blessing to the illegal vote, which was a unanimous 4-0 approval. Like the baseball tournament, the item was on the agenda as a ‘presentation’ item only, not an action item to be voted on.

Ross told Council members that the leadership meeting was proposed by the Central Midlands Council of Governments (COG) who would also provide the program for the meeting.

“We provide the place and the meal,” Ross said. “It’s got to be of some value, and it would get us all together.”

Councilman Bob Mangone added, “We might be able to lobby some things, but they seem to be fairly set in their ways. I hope we can get some camaraderie with Fairfield County. It can’t hurt.”

Council voted 4-0 to pass first reading on the FY 2014-15 budget without any discussion. A final budget workshop is planned for Tuesday, June 17, from 8 a.m. – noon.

Penny Tax Road Improvements

Council also voted, albeit out of the order from the agenda, to pass a resolution to reset priorities in the Town’s recommendations to the Richland County Transportation Committee (TPAC) for roads to be improved and widened with the penny tax funds. Malcolm Gordge, chairman of the Blythewood Penny Tax Committee, listed the following as the new priorities:

Blythewood Road from Syrup Mill Road to I-77

Blythewood Road from 1-77 to Main Street

McNulty Road from Main Street to Blythewood Road

Creech Road extension to Main Street

Blythewood Road from Fulmer to Syrup Mill

Traffic Circle at Blythewood Road and Creech Road

Traffic Circle at Blythewood Road and Cobblestone

I-77 Landscape Maintenance

Meggs reported that the Town of Winnsboro is installing a pressure pump station near the intersection of Dawson’s Creek Road and Highway 21, just south of Blythewood High School, to improve water pressure for residents in Cobblestone.

“There’s going to be a capital expense there, and considering where we’re going with water,” Meggs said, “that sort of raises other issues.”

Meggs also addressed complaints the Town has had from residents recently about the lack of landscaping maintenance for the new plantings at the I-77 interchange at Blythewood Road.

“There have been some irrigation problems,” Meggs said, explaining that the Town is manually supplementing the irrigation with a 300-gallon water tank trucked to the site. He said that would continue as the irrigation problem is being diagnosed. He also said DOT mowers will be cutting grass along I-77 and should complete the stretch of road along Blythewood this week.

Search for Town Administrator

During public comment time, former Councilman Ed Garrison quizzed Council as to the status of the search for a new Town Administrator. He also chastised them for not having properly vetted the candidates.

“Two of the finalists had legal issues and the other two are economic developers,” Garrison said. “I thought we were hiring a Town Administrator. I’d like to see us go back and do it right.”

Mangone challenged Garrison’s accusation that the candidates were not properly vetted.

“My expectation of you as head of that committee is that you would have vetted those people,” Garrison said.

“They were vetted,” Mangone shot back.

“Well if they were vetted,” Garrison said, “obviously my standards and yours are not the same.”

Council voted to go into executive session to discuss an employee situation, negotiations incident to proposed contractual arrangements and the receipt of legal advice about ‘matters covered by the attorney-client privilege.’ No vote was taken.

The next work session will be June 17, 8 a.m. – noon. The next regular Town Council meeting will be Tuesday, June 30, at 7 p.m. at the Manor.

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