Planning Commission Closes Doors on Pointe Talks

Executive Session May Have Violated FOIA

BLYTHEWOOD (Jan. 7, 2016) – Conducting his first meeting Monday evening as Chairman of the Planning Commission, Buddy Price called for and received approval from his fellow commissioners to move an executive session with the Town’s attorney Jim Meggs from the end of the agenda to the front of the agenda. But the reason for that session might have run afoul of the state’s Freedom of Information statute.

Price said the closed-door session was for the purpose of receiving legal advice on matters covered by the attorney-client privilege concerning a lawsuit that had been brought against the Town of Blythewood by Prestwick Development LLC. Filed Nov. 23, 2015, the lawsuit was concluded on Dec. 11 when the 5th Circuit Court Judge L. Casey Manning issued an order reversing the Nov. 10, 2015, decision by the Planning Commission to refuse to approve a site plan for Prestwick Development for multi-family housing in the Town Center District. The development has since continued to move through the Town’s approval process.

After holding up the agenda for 30 minutes Monday evening for the executive session, during which time those attending the meeting had to wait outside closed doors, Price explained to the returning audience that the town’s attorney had briefed the Commission on the lawsuit.

“If there was some kind of appeal to the lawsuit planned, it would be legal to discuss that behind closed doors. But that doesn’t seem to be the case,” Bill Rogers, Executive Director of the S.C. Press Association told The Voice on Tuesday. “The public is entitled to hear his (Meggs’) explanation of the suit. Audience response is not listed as an exemption in the FOIA.”

Meggs also held an executive session two weeks ago during a Board of Architectural Review meeting for the same purpose.

Following the executive session, the Commission elected a vice-chairman. Price nominated Robert Cappadona. Commissioner Ernestine Middleton nominated Don Sanders who declined the nomination saying his home was for sale and he might be leaving the Blythewood area. Sanders then nominated Middleton who said she, too, might soon be moving away and declined the nomination. Price then called for the vote and Cappadona was elected unanimously.

The Commission then voted unanimously to approve amendments to the Landscaping, Buffer Yards and Tree Preservation Ordinance. The amendments were suggested by representatives of the Home Builders’ Association of Greater Columbia after the ordinance was approved by Council last fall. Michael Criss, the Town’s Planning Consultant, said there were five substantive changes including changes that gave more flexibility to the Town Administrator when making decisions on whether to require tree surveys and on permitting for tree removal.