Chamber Board meets secretly; votes to become ‘inactive’

WINNSBORO – The elephant in the room was not mentioned during the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly breakfast on Wednesday. That elephant was the surprise announcement on Monday that the Chamber Board voted for the Chamber to become ‘inactive’ as of June 30, 2018.

While Facebook pages lit up with the news, neither the Chamber’s Board Chairman, nor any of the Board members mentioned the issue at the breakfast.

Following the breakfast, when two Board members were asked by The Voice when and where the Board had met to vote for the ‘inactive’ status, neither would divulge the information. Board member Lou Ann Coleman accused The Voice of harassment for asking the question. In an email later that day, Coleman did respond that the vote was held during a meeting at the Chamber offices on April 19. However, no meeting had been posted for a Chamber Board meeting on that date.

The S. C. Freedom of Information Act, Sec. 30-4-60 states, “Every meeting of all public bodies shall be open to the public unless closed pursuant to Sec. 30-4-70 of this chapter. In Sec. 30-4-80, it further states that notice must be given of meetings of all public bodies.

“The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act requires not just governmental entities, but ‘any organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds,’ to abide the Act’s transparency requirements,” S.C. Press Association attorney Taylor Smith said. “The Act provides that such organization must have meetings open to the public and that the public be notified of the time, location and agenda for the meeting. The failure to notify the public of an upcoming meeting of an organization is a violation of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act,” Smith said.

“After carefully evaluating its feasibility, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to take this action,” the Board’s press release stated. “The primary factors that led to this decision included limited financial support, reduced participation during the traditional Chamber structured events, as well as limited volunteers,” the release stated.

Asked to clarify whether the Board planned to disband the chamber on June 30, 2018, a source on the Board who asked not to be identified said the chamber will still file with the Secretary of State as an organization, but that it will become inactive as of June 30. Until that time, activities will go on as normal, the source said.

The source also said all Chamber employees will be let go as of June 30, but that the Chamber will remain in an inactive state after June 30, the end of the Chamber’s fiscal year.

Asked by The Voice to clarify ‘inactive,’ Shull answered in an email, “Inactive means not in operation.”

In the email, Shull also stated that the newly hired Interim Director of the Chamber, Chris Timmers, who was hired March 1, would not be employed through June 30. On that same day, in a Facebook post, Board member Lou Ann Coleman posted that Timmers “is no longer employed by the Chamber. Ms. (Susan) Yenner is.”

Asked to clarify Mr. Timmers’ employment status further, whether he would continue receiving a salary until June 30 even though he is no long employed, or if he received a separation package, Shull has not, at press time, responded.

The Chamber is funded primarily by the County, at $87,500 annually, and by the Town of Winnsboro for Town sponsored events at $35,000 annually. In reference to the Chamber’s reported ‘limited financial support,’ County Council Chairman Billy Smith said he was surprised to hear that was a factor in the Board’s decision to go inactive.

“No, the County has not cut the Chamber’s funding,” Smith said. “We have contemplated the idea of reducing it, but only because their representatives couldn’t answer basic questions Council members had about their plans for the future during our second budget work-session.

“In a letter from Council that was delivered to the Board on April 17, Council offered the Chamber every opportunity to keep their County funding the same as it has been in the past. I offered assistance on planning. Now, I really don’t understand the suggestion of ‘limited financial support,’” Smith said.

“Between County funding, the money the Town of Winnsboro gave the Chamber for the first time this year, and the proceeds from their golf tournament (which they said they aren’t going to do anymore),” Smith said, “ I’d think the Chamber had more financial support now than at any time before, at least in recent history.”

Asked if he had seen a decrease in attendance at Chamber sponsored events, Chief John Seibles with the Winnsboro Department of Public Safety, which oversees safety of the festivals in the Town, including Rock Around the Clock and the Pumpkin Festival, said the crowd at last year’s Rock Around the Clock was large and orderly.

“It [Rock Around the Clock] was larger than in past years and it ran smoothly as I recall,” Seibles said.

Board Chairman Harper Shull has not returned phone calls from The Voice at press time.

County Council Chairman Billy Smith sent the following letter to Chamber Board Chairman Harper Shull following Chamber Interim Director Chris Timmers’ presentation to Council during a budget workshop on April 17.

Related: FC Chamber Board votes to become inactive, Council gives Chamber notice

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