Town Hall mum on attorney contract, fees

BLYTHEWOOD – Since filing a countersuit against MPA Strategies marketing firm, its owner Ashley Hunter and the nonprofit State and Frink Foundation, the Town of Blythewood government has been less than open concerning its arrangements with outside counsel David Black, an attorney with Nexsen Pruet LLC out of Columbia, who is representing the Town in the suit.

During a special called meeting on July 20, 2021, Black announced to councilmembers that the Town had filed the countersuit. He spent the better part of two hours going over it with council members.

The suit had been filed earlier that day along with affidavits signed by Mayor Brian Franklin, Town Attorney Shannon Burnett and Town Administrator Carroll Williamson stating that everything in the countersuit was correct, “upon information and belief.” The phrase is sometimes used in legal pleadings to protect makers of statements from claims of outright falsehoods or perjury. The phrase loosely translates to, “I am only stating what I have been told, and I believe it.”

After the meeting, The Voice asked Town Administrator Carroll Williamson for a copy of the letter of engagement or contract between the town and Black/Nexsen Pruet. Williamson directed The Voice to contact Black directly for that information and gave his assurance that Black would comply.

On July 27, 2021, The Voice submitted a Freedom of Information request for copies of the contract/letter of engagement as well as documentation pertaining to the retainer fee the Town paid for Black’s legal services and any additional charges he had invoiced to the town.

On Aug. 3, 2021, Black responded to The Voice.

“The Town has advised that it is in possession of responsive records as you describe in your request; however, such records are exempt from disclosure pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. 30-4-40(a)(3) and (7),” Black wrote

That explanation does not satisfy the S.C. Press Association’s media attorney Taylor Smith.

“Only those records that are marked confidential or otherwise prohibited from disclosure under the law may be held back under South Carolina’s open records laws,” Smith said. “To the extent the town’s fee agreement with this law firm has attorney-client privileged material within the document, SCFOIA allows the town to redact/blackout that information. It is illegal for the town to withhold the attorney fee agreement entirely as that does not allow the residents of Blythewood to understand any better how their taxpayer funds are being spent.”

The Voice has again sent a Freedom of Information request for the same documents to Town Administrator Carroll Williamson.

According to the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, fully executed contracts are public information, are not allowed to be discussed in executive session and are subject to the FOIA.

Speak Your Mind