No quorum? No problem.

WINNSBORO – When a quorum of members didn’t show up for a special called County Council meeting Monday evening, that didn’t deter the three members (out of seven) present from meeting and then voting to go into executive session to discuss what Chairman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) said was “a legal matter relating to the Fairfield Memorial Hospital.” However, no attorney was present to advise members regarding that legal matter.

And there were other problems as well, according to Jay Bender, First Amendment attorney with the S.C. Press Association.

“There was no meeting because there was no quorum,” Bender told The Voice in an email on Tuesday. “There should not have been an executive session because an executive session can only be entered into from a publicly convened meeting following an affirmative vote on a motion.”

When Robinson called the 6 p.m. meeting to order with only Council members Kamau Marcharia (District 4) and Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) present, she immediately called for a motion to go into executive session. With a vote of 3-0, they did so even while County Administrator Jason Taylor could be heard advising Robinson that they did not have a quorum.

“We don’t have a quorum, but we’re still going to discuss,” Robinson could be heard saying even though the Council members’ microphones had been turned off.

Marcharia also questioned the advisability of meeting without a quorum as the group left the Council chambers for a private meeting room for what turned out to be a 20-minute session.

Reached this week by phone, Robinson defended her use of the executive session without a quorum.

“We had an unofficial meeting without a quorum,” Robinson said. “So we called it to order and made a motion to go into executive session, came out and reported nothing out of executive session. It’s just a discussion. It’s nothing you can report out.”

When confronted with the irregularity, if not possible illegality, of conducting a meeting without a quorum, Robinson was irritated.

“I’m so sick of you trying to usurp and understand the rules when you don’t understand the rules,” Robinson said. “I’m not going to go into it. Everything I try to do is by the rules. Basically what people don’t like is that I know the rules.”

But Robinson may not be as up on the “rules” as she claims.

In his email on the subject, Bender further wrote, “‘discussion of a legal matter’ is not an allowed topic for an executive session.”

The meeting was called on Sept. 16 and both Councilman Dan Ruff (District 1) and Billy Smith (District 7) told The Voice that they had not expected the Monday meeting and had plans that could not be changed on short notice. They said they received no other communication about the meeting or why it was urgent. Councilman Marion Robinson (District 5) was also not present at the meeting. One seat on Council, District 3, is currently vacant.

The issue under discussion on Monday evening came up at an Administrative and Finance Committee meeting on Sept. 7, when Taylor called members’ attention to an item on the agenda requesting action to engage the services of Parker Poe Consulting, LLC for assistance with legal matters relating to the hospital.

Because Parker Poe’s legal and consultation services are expected to be more than $25,000, above what is allowed to be approved by the Administrator, some members of Council questioned whether the services should be subject to sealed bid.

When the item came up for discussion on Council’s Sept. 12 agenda, Taylor told Council that new information had come to light and suggested they discuss the issue further in executive session before voting. Following that session, Councilman Billy Smith (District 7) told The Voice he thought the discussion had been beneficial and felt Council should go through proper procurement procedures in procuring legal services.