JWC Opens 2016 with FOIA Violation

JENKINSVILLE (Jan. 29, 2016) – At the end of a raucous annual meeting of the Jenkinsville Water Company on Jan. 13, in which three new Board members were openly elected by the membership, the company’s president, Gregrey Ginyard, called for an executive session of the Board of Directors for the purpose of electing new officers for the Board.

Following that executive session, Ginyard told The Voice that electing Board officers in closed session is a tradition, and that since the company is a non-profit and takes no public money, it is not subject to the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Bill Rogers, Executive Director of the S.C. Press Association disagrees, saying Ginyard violated the state’s FOIA.

“Voting for officers in executive session is clearly illegal. They must vote in public. Tradition doesn’t trump the law,” Rogers said.

Rogers’ opinion is backed by an Attorney General’s opinion issued Aug. 8, 2011, in which Deputy Attorney General Robert D. Cook stated, “It is our opinion that the (Jenkinsville) Water Company is a Public Body and must meet the FOIA’s requirements.”

The company’s annual financial report presented at the January meeting further identifies the company as a public body subject to the FOIA, showing that it receives public money. According to the report, the company received an $89,365 public grant in 2011 and Ginyard told The Voice that it received a $175,000 loan/grant from Rural Infrastructure in August 2014 for a new filtration system for the Clowney Road well. According to the minutes of the June 27, 2015 regular monthly meeting, the company has applied for a $5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build a water treatment plant for water it hopes to pull from the Broad River. That grant is yet to materialize.

Ginyard opened the meeting with a review of the Clowney Road well failure, explaining that it was taken off line in September due to radium contamination in the water. He said the company spent $107,092.04 with Mid County Water Company for water to serve the Clowney Road customers while the well was off line.

“We have a new filtering system on that well now, and it should be back on line the week of Jan. 25,” Ginyard said. “But, through it all, we didn’t pass the Mid County water costs on to our customers. Their water bills did not go up.”

Throughout the meeting, Ginyard had his hands full with a roundup of questions from members that set up shouting matches between himself and members.

When Jeff Schaffer asked to speak during the question and answer period, Ginyard called on a sheriff’s deputy to eject Schaffer, saying he was not allowed to ask questions because he is not a member.

“I am a member,” Schaffer countered. “I get water at my house and I pay a water bill. And I have a right to ask a question.”

After a five-minute standoff, Schaeffer was allowed to identify his name on the membership list and ask his question.

When asked by member Dee Melton whether the Board had changed the company’s bylaws in an executive session in a meeting that was not announced to the public, Ginyard denied that the minutes had been changed.

“We only reviewed the bylaws in executive session,” Ginyard said.

Melton held up two copies of the bylaws, one of which he said had been amended and read passages from the two versions. In each case, the passages were different.

“Here, a whole sentence was added to the bylaws,” Melton said, referring to one passage.

Asked why the Board had recently changed the bylaws in an executive session of an unannounced meeting, Ginyard again denied that the Board had made changes.

“They were only reviewed, sir,” Ginyard answered.

“Were they amended?” Melton asked again.

“That line was added to clear up a misunderstanding,” Ginyard said.

“Are these bylaws legal?” Melton pressed.

“Yes sir,” Ginyard answered in frustration.

According to the minutes of the Dec. 14 meeting, “Mr. McBride made a motion to enter executive session to make final revisions to the bylaws.” After returning to open session, the Board voted unanimously to accept the revisions.

“The bylaws say that if they are to be amended, a 10-day written notice must be given to all members denoting the recommended changes before they can be amended,” Melton said. “Was a notice given?”

“No sir,” Ginyard answered. “We’ve got to move on, Mr. Melton.”

Regular monthly meetings of the Water Board of Trustees are held the second Monday evening of each month.