Water Company Faces FOIA Lawsuit

JENKINSVILLE (Dec. 15, 2016) – The Jenkinsville Water Company was hit with yet another lawsuit this month, one this time focusing on the Board of Trustees’ relationship with the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

The suit, filed in the Sixth Judicial Circuit on Dec. 5 by Winnsboro attorney Glenn E. Bowens on behalf of Donald Melton, alleges that the company does not provide public notice of its board meetings, as required by S.C. Code 30-4-80, and that the Board conducts its annual election of officers in secret, a violation of S.C. Code 30-4-70.

The lawsuit also alleges that the Board conducts business in executive session in violation of S.C. Code 30-4-70, and that JWC president and presiding officer of the Board Gregrey Ginyard fails to announce the specific purpose of executive sessions prior to the Board meeting behind closed doors. The Board also amends the company’s bylaws without notice or a vote by the company’s membership, the lawsuit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, minutes from the company’s board meetings are not being made available to the public, as required by S.C. Code 30-4-30(d)(1).

“Before last month’s meeting, Mr. Melton went to the water company office during normal operation hours and asked for minutes from several past meeting,” Bowens said, “and he was told he would have to put his request in writing. The FOIA says they have to give them to you upon request. They can charge a copying fee, but they have to provide them.”

According to the lawsuit, Ginyard has stated that the water company is not subject to the S.C. FOIA, something Bowens said he hopes a judge will clarify once and for all.

Bowens said he is also hopeful the legal proceedings will force the water company to answer pending and future FOIA requests.

Ginyard declined to comment on the lawsuit, but did say that the water company has “answered all the FOIAs that have been requested.”

Bowens said that is not exactly true, that the JWC’s “answers” consistently consist of an acknowledgement that an FOIA request had been received and then nothing more.

“They do not ever answer FOIA requests,” Bowens said. “When he (Ginyard) says they’ve answered them, they say they got it. This lawsuit is to try to get them to answer FOIA requests, other than just saying ‘we got your request and we’re working on it,’ because that’s what they do.”

The lawsuit also claims that the company allows members to cast votes for Trustees based on the number of water meters/water taps the voting member owns, which the suit alleges is a violation of company bylaws. The suit is seeking an injunction to prevent his practice in the future.

The JWC also allows commercial customers to vote for Trustees during the annual meeting, the lawsuit states. However, the company has no procedure by which to verify that the person voting is actually authorized to attend the meeting and vote on behalf of the commercial customer. The suit is also seeking an injunction to prevent this practice as well.

The suit is also seeking a declaratory judgment to determine if Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) regulations require the inclusion of water loss and unaccounted for water in determining water capacity. Currently, the suit claims, the JWC includes both in determining whether its water capacity complies with DHEC regulations.

Additionally, the suit claims the company does not keep track of water loss and is seeking a declaratory judgment to determine if it is required by DHEC to do so.

The lawsuit also seeks declaratory judgments to determine if the JWC is subject to the S.C. FOIA; to determine the rights of parties with respect to the company’s bylaws and the election of Board members; to declare whether the Board’s January 2016 annual meeting was lawful; to determine whether the company’s bylaws may be amended without notice or vote by membership; and whether the Board chairman may break a tie vote of the Board.

The suit also seeks injunctive relief from denying the copies of minutes; from conducting business in executive session; from entering into executive session without stating the specific purpose; from taking action in executive session; from electing Board members in secret; from holding meetings without public notice; from holding the January 2017 annual meeting without public notice; and from amending bylaws without notice and without a vote of the company membership.

At press time, a hearing had not yet been scheduled for the non-jury trial.