Mayor Franklin says he’s besieged by council/media conspiracy

BLYTHEWOOD – When an article in the April 29 issue of The Voice reported that Mayor Bryan Franklin unilaterally hired outside counsel – without town council’s consent – to represent the Town concerning MPA Strategies, Franklin, in a 19+ minute tirade against the newspaper’s account, said it was “absolutely fabricated and false.” He insisted that not he, but the town administrator and town attorney hired outside counsel.

“I did not hire outside counsel,” Franklin stated emphatically at the May 3 council meeting. “I did not direct anyone to hire outside counsel,” he said, claiming that he didn’t even find out about the hire until about the same time council members found out, which was three days after the hire. During Monday night’s town council meeting, however, Town Attorney Shannon Burnett walked back the mayor’s claim that he did not direct or know about the hire. Burnett said Franklin did know about the hire before it was made, and that he approved it.

Burnett said that after she and Town Administrator Carroll Williamson found who they thought would be the right attorney for the MPA Strategy issue, they consulted Franklin.

“Before the [attorney’s] agreement was signed, you did approve it,” she said, looking toward Franklin.

In his second tirade in a month against the press, Franklin also targeted some of his fellow councilmen Monday night as conspiring against him.

Getting into the weeds, Franklin sought to prove his point by claiming that Richland County Councilman Derrek Pugh and Town Councilman Larry Griffin had passed information to him that some council members said, “if they make things so rough for [me], I would resign and we’d have a special election and this individual would then run for mayor. That’s the kind of council members you have up here,” Franklin said from the dias.

Contacted by The Voice after the meeting, Councilman Larry Griffin denied Franklin’s accusation.

What he (Franklin) said is not true. I did not say that.

Larry Griffin, Blythewood Town Councilman

“What he [Franklin] said is not true,” Griffin said. “I did not say that. I recall Mr. Franklin asking me why he was getting so much heat from people. I said, ‘Maybe if you get enough heat, you might resign.’ This was general talk, not specific to anyone,” Griffin said. “I stand on my integrity and I am not going to be drawn into petty bickering between my fellow council members. This is childish and unprofessional behavior.”

Pugh declined to outright deny or confirm Franklin’s accusation but responded to The Voice with an emailed statement.

“I have always been and will continue to be forthright in my conversations and actions. I have not and do not engage in conversations that undermine our leaders in any way,” he wrote.

Franklin launched into other claims as well that enforce his belief that there is a conspiracy against him.

“I try to hold the powerful press accountable when they make up stories and say things like ‘we’re trying to hire a municipal attorney’, which is not what we’re doing,” he said. “We hired outside counsel, which is not a municipal attorney.” The Voice used the term ‘outside council’ throughout the article. It did not use the term ‘municipal attorney’ as Franklin claimed (see page 1 of the April 29, 2021 issue.)

“When you have conspiring council members working with the press, that’s discouraging to me as the mayor,” he continued. “I have been met with anger. I have been met with consternation. I have been met with private attacks, and I have been disregarded,” Franklin said. “I feel I was betrayed, even blackmailed.”

Franklin covered many bases during his almost seven minute broadside claiming even that some councilmen had disparaged the town staff and “think lowly of them.”

He accused – but did not name – one council member of saying that, “if I would apologize to Ms. Hunter [of MPA Strategies] for the way she was treated or find out who spread false rumors about her, and that if we paid the legal fees that she incurred, that her FOIA would go away. I felt entrapped,” Franklin said.

Councilman Donald Brock told The Voice after the meeting that Franklin was apparently referencing him but misrepresenting what he [Brock] said. 

“I believe that Mayor Franklin has confused some of the details from our April 27 meeting to discuss the open FIOA request from Ms. Hunter,” Brock said in response to a request from The Voice.

“I never stated that signing the marketing contract would end the FIOA request; additionally, I had no advanced notice that any FIOA request was forthcoming as he has alluded to in prior conversations.

“I did recommend signing the agreement since it was approved by a majority Council vote and is clearly in the best interest of Blythewood,” Brock added.

“When asked what I felt was a reasonable resolution between the Town and Ms. Hunter, I did suggest that the Mayor either apologize for the defamatory comments made or reveal the source of the anonymous voicemail he claims to have received,” Brock said. “I also asked if he still has the voicemail. He replied that it had been deleted.

“In regard to the payment of Ms. Hunter’s legal fees, I did suggest that the Town, as a partner and in good faith, inquire as to the legality of a reimbursement,” he said. “It is my opinion that Ms. Hunter was treated rudely and unfairly during the RFP and negotiation phases of our marketing search and the Town should remedy if applicable.  I have had zero conversations with Ms. Hunter prior to and after this meeting in regard to the above. Any insinuation to the contrary is false.”

Franklin called for his fellow councilmen and the newspaper to be held accountable.

“I pray that people hold these people accountable to the point where they resign or leave office voluntarily and do not run again,” Franklin said.

“It pains me to say these things, but quite often as you’ve all seen, the paper does not carry the true meaning of what we do here. They spin things to make people look bad,” Franklin said. “Well, they’re making the wrong people look bad. In my opinion the truth will prevail.”

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