Council’s ‘passed’ 4-3 vote fails

Failed Vote Leaves County Without COVID Emergency Ordinance

WINNSBORO – A 4-3 vote by council misfired at the Feb. 8 council meeting, leaving the county without a restrictive emergency ordinance that has required face masks, social distancing and other COVID-19 protections for Fairfield citizens for the last 11 months.

Fairfield Councilman Douglas Pauley cautioned at the beginning of the Feb. 8 council meeting, that council members should not proceed with the meeting without an attorney present to give guidance. He warned that council could misstep without knowing.

Pauley was referencing the absence of County Attorney Tommy Morgan who resigned under pressure from some council members who have let it be known they wanted to hire a different attorney to represent the county. While Morgan’s last day is not until Feb. 28, he will not attend further council meetings before he leaves.

Chairman Moses Bell disagreed with Pauley’s caution, gaveling Pauley repeatedly as he made his comments, talking over Pauley and calling for him to cease talking.

Bell then declared a motion on an emergency ordinance as “passed” with a 4-3 vote while, in fact, the vote failed since emergency ordinances require a 2/3 vote which, for Fairfield County Council, is 5 votes, not 4, the majority of council, 

“I was alerted today based on a question from Mr. Pauley concerning the vote on the emergency ordinance,” Bell wrote in an email to councilmembers that was acquired by The Voice. “In reviewing the vote to adopt the emergency ordinance, it failed because it required a 2/3 vote.”

The last paragraph of the ordinance states: “Ordained, enacted, and ordered as an emergency ordinance, and approved at a meeting duly assembled by no less than an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the members of Fairfield County Council present…”

According to Pauley, the ordinance has been approved unanimously by council on six previous occasions last year.

While Pauley and Councilmen Clarence Gilbert and Neil Robinson have voted to pass the ordinance in previous meetings, they voted against it on Feb. 8. All three said they feel it’s time to move toward opening the meetings to the public with safety precautions in place, and they wanted an amendment to allow that.

“I understand the environment we’re in with respect to COVID,” Gilbert said. “But I’ve received more concerns from citizens – phone calls and complaints – than I’ve received in the two years I’ve been on council, so I think that we need to find a safe way for citizens to attend these meetings and share their concerns in person to the whole council.”

Gilbert moved to table the motion until staff can determine a safe way for citizens to attend the meetings and provide public comments.

Robinson suggested the council could use a larger space such as the armory in Fortune Springs Park that is used by the town council for their meetings which are open to the public. Robinson also pointed out that other governments in that area have managed to safely open their meetings to the public.

While newly seated Councilwoman Shirley Greene campaigned on providing the public with the opportunity to comment in public, she, along with Bell, Trapp and Roseborough, declined to consider any form of public comment other than possibly electronic participation.

The next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. in council chambers.