Council meetings inch closer to donnybrooks

Is the Town Headed to Court with MPA?

BLYTHEWOOD – Town council meetings have, of late, more often than not turned into donnybrooks. But few if any have topped Mayor Bryan Franklin’s public tirade during Monday night’s meeting when he targeted The Voice for 19+ minutes over a story he didn’t like in the April 29 issue titled, “Town, MPA sign; council may have violated FOIA.’

Franklin didn’t stop insisting that The Voice had done him wrong.  He also suggested that only 10 percent of the people read the 9,000+ circulation newspaper, adding that, “Most people I know don’t read it.” (The YouTube video of the meeting can be viewed on the town hall website.)

The offending story was about the several months of acrimonious back and forth among council members over the hiring of MPA Strategies, a firm hired in February by a 3-2 vote of council to provide promotional and grant writing services for the town. The mayor opposed hiring MPA, saying he preferred hiring the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce to provide the town’s promotional and grant writing services.

After council voted to authorize Franklin, town attorney Shannon Burnett and town administrator Carrol Williamson to negotiate the contract with MPA Strategies, the negotiations dragged on for weeks, and various rumors were circulated before MPA Strategies sent a Freedom of Information request on April 15, 2021, for Franklin’s social media communications concerning MPA Strategies. Franklin signed the contract the next day.

While Franklin criticized numerous passages in the April 29 story on Monday night, there was only one that he singled out as being wrong. The story said that on April 20, 2021, the mayor engaged Nexsen Pruet law firm as outside counsel to represent the Town concerning MPA Strategies. The mayor said Monday night that the outside counsel was hired by the town administrator without his (Franklin’s) knowledge or direction. Three members of council – Donald Brock, Sloan Griffin and Larry Griffin – confirmed to The Voice that they were not aware that outside counsel was being hired until receiving copies of emails that Nexsen Pruet attorney David Black had sent to MPA Strategies on April 23, 2021, concerning what Black termed a “dispute” between the Town and MPA Strategies. No legal action has been filed by either party

The town’s ordinance, the MASC Guide to Elected Officials hand book and the South Carolina statute all state that the council hires municipal attorneys. There is no mention that the mayor or town administrator hires town attorneys.

The story focused on several missteps made by Franklin, including that he had led council into an executive meeting to discuss a fully executed contract which is not allowed under the state’s Freedom of Information law. According to Section 30-4-40 of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, once a contract has been fully executed, it must be discussed by council in public.

Franklin also publicly misquoted texts from The Voice Monday night and launched criticism that The Voice had not called him with questions concerning MPA.

“I could have clarified that if [The Voice] had called me,” he said.

However, on April 23, five days before the story went to press, Franklin texted The Voice to not ask him any more questions concerning MBA Strategies.

“Upon advice of outside counsel, please refer questions regarding MPA to attorney David Black at Nexsen Pruitt [sic],” Franklin texted.

He reiterated that publicly at the April 26 town council meeting, saying that The Voice would have to address all questions concerning MPA Strategies to the outside legal council, David Black at Nexsen Pruet law firm.

In preparing the 2021-22 town budget, which is currently being discussed by council in workshops, town staff had proposed $40,000 to cover outside legal council. On Tuesday, May 4, following Monday night’s council meeting, staff upped that amount to $60,000.

Comments

  1. You know you are doing something right, when a mayor goes on a tirade for 19 minutes in public about you. Keep up the good work!!!

  2. The public is entitled to hear everything said at a Town Council meeting. The mayor should have directed that a microphone be provided to Barbara Ball or directed her to step up to the microphone, so that her remarks could be heard and placed in the public record.
    The mayor said several times words to the effect of “as a private citizen”. No, he was speaking as Mayor – a public servant. Everything he said, he said as Mayor.

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