JWC has quorum, no meeting

JENKINSVILLE – It’s not often that a public body violates the state’s Freedom of Information Act without actually holding a meeting.

But that’s exactly what hap­pened when the Jenkinsville Water Company refused to re­lease an agenda after cancel­ling Monday night’s meeting, according to open government experts.

The Voice requested a copy of the agenda as board members shuffled out of the meeting room. Instead of complying, board members said only the chairman is allowed to distribute the agenda.

When The Voice pointed out that state law gives the board permission, another board member questioned the newspa­per’s intent.

“If we don’t have a meeting, then why do you need an agenda?” asked board mem­ber Jeral Smith.

“We don’t have permission,” another board member quipped.

The Voice requested the agenda to re­port on items of business that the board otherwise would’ve discussed had it met.

It’s also a violation of FOIA to refuse to provide an agenda when a member of the public asks for one, said Jay Bender, an at­torney representing the S.C. Press Associa­tion.

“Very clearly, if there’s an agenda, there’s a public record and it’s supposed to be made available with notice of the meeting,” Bender said. “It doesn’t matter whether the chairman thinks it should be released.”

State law also requires the JWC and other public bodies to post the meeting notice and agenda at its meeting location within 24 hours of the meeting.

That didn’t happen either, according to an inspection by The Voice.

It’s unclear why the water company board didn’t hold a meeting. Five mem­bers were present, constituting a quorum of the nine-member board, though chair­man Greg Ginyard and vice-chairman Jo­seph McBride were absent.

Fairfield County Councilwoman Bertha Goins, a frequent critic of the water com­pany, came to Monday’s meeting.

Goins said she attended to observe the board. She expressed dismay that board members wouldn’t release the agenda, and lamented the board’s general lack of transparency.

“Nobody’s documenting anything. There are no facts or policies and proce­dures for anything,” Goins said. “Nothing has changed. It’s the same thing withhold­ing of information.

“They’re not following state regulations, they’re not reflecting the members,” Goins continued. “It’s irritating. It says you’re not doing the job that the members require of you.”

In the past five months, the Jenkinsville Water Company has continued to come under fire for transparency issues during virtually every meeting.

In April, after a lengthy executive ses­sion, the board voted to accept “Items A, B and C” without specifying what those items involved.

The following month, the JWC didn’t publicize when and where the unsealing of bids to a company tapped to install a new water well. Board members also refused to answer questions about the water usage report at the direction of Ginyard.

Dee Melton with Broad River Camp­ground sued the JWC in 2014, alleging vio­lations of FOIA. The lawsuit is pending.

In 2011, the State Attorney General’s Of­fice issued an opinion that the Jenkinsville Water Company is a public body that must comply with the FOIA.

Also in 2011, the water company faced criminal charges under the “willful viola­tion” provision of the FOIA.

However, the case died in 2012 when the solicitor’s office declined to prosecute.

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