Editorial Analysis: Records refute Franklin’s claims against Voice publisher

BLYTHEWOOD – Mayor Bryan Franklin is either misinformed by Town Administrator Carroll Williamson or is not telling the truth concerning his allegations that The Voice intimidated and bullied Williamson with “numerous inquiries” regarding town attorney Shannon Burnett’s resignation.

In the Sept. 23, 2021 issue of the Country Chronicle, Franklin was quoted as saying he had been “informed by Williamson that he had received ‘numerous inquiries’ from Voice publisher Barbara Ball regarding Burnett’s resignation…” In Franklin’s words, those “numerous inquiries” amounted to “intimidating and bullying” Williamson.

Neither Franklin nor Williamson have offered documentation or records to support these public accusations made by Franklin.

Records show The Voice made only one inquiry to Williamson concerning a resignation letter submitted to him by Burnett. Such an inquiry is common for newspapers when a town attorney resigns, particularly when controversy is afoot.

On Sept. 21, 2021, The Voice sent that single inquiry – an email – to Williamson. It stated: “Hi Carroll, I was informed last week that Shannon Burnett had submitted her resignation. I just learned that you have confirmed that. Could you send me a copy of her resignation letter?”

Williamson did not respond to that email.

Two days later, on Sept. 23, the Country Chronicle published a story titled, “Emails Regarding Town Attorney’ Resignation Lead to Mounting Concerns over Town Councilman’s Misconduct.“ in that story, the Country Chronicle’s editor Tonya Page quoted Franklin accusing the Voice’s publisher of making “numerous inquiries about Burnett’s resignation…”

In an email to Councilman Donald Brock on Sept 21, Franklin wrote that he [Brock] and Barbara Ball “need to stop intimidating and bullying him [Williamson].”

After reading Page’s Sept. 23 article, The Voice sent Williamson a Freedom of Information request that same day requesting copies of the “numerous inquiries” that The Voice allegedly made to Williamson regarding Burnett’s resignation, other than the single email dated Sept 21, 2021.

In a Nov. 18, 2021, response to that FOIA, the Town’s outside attorney David Black confirmed that the Town did not possess “numerous inquiries” from The Voice concerning Burnett’s resignation letter.

“The Town is unaware of any additional written inquiries [from The Voice] concerning Ms. Burnett’s letter other than [the] Sept. 21, 2021 inquiry…” Black wrote.

Following up on Nov. 19, 2021, The Voice asked Williamson in a phone call to verify the “numerous inquiries,” but he declined to comment.

In an email to Franklin that same day, The Voice asked Franklin to verify his allegations that the newspaper’s publisher had harassed Williamson with “numerous inquiries.” Franklin responded, this time, saying The Voice had made “several phone calls,” to Williamson in regard to Ms. Burnett’s resignation letter and that those phone calls continued.

If Verizon call records are correct, that, also, is not true. The call records show that The Voice made only one phone call to town hall during that time period – from the day Burnett submitted her resignation letter (Sept. 16, 2021), until Franklin’s allegations (that “numerous inquiries” were made by The Voice) were published on Sept. 23, 2021.

That single phone call was made at 3:12 p.m., Sept. 20, the day before Williamson confirmed to Brock that Burnett had resigned her position with the Town. The call was a follow up on an email The Voice sent to him earlier that morning at 9:45, inquiring if town hall would like to purchase an ad in The Voice’s upcoming Veteran’s Day special section.

Williamson replied to the Sept. 20 email/call via email the next day at 8 a.m., saying: “No Veterans Day ad this year, thank you.  If you still have questions for me, can you email them to me?  I have several meetings today.  I’ll try to get back to you.”

Franklin’s public and private undocumented accusations and innuendoes against The Voice have been relentless for the better part of 2021.

On April 29, 2021, The Voice reported that Mr. Franklin unilaterally hired outside counsel – without town council’s knowledge or consent – to represent the Town concerning MPA Strategies. Franklin, in a 19+ minute tirade against the newspaper’s reporting, denied that he even knew about the hiring of the outside attorney. He said The Voice’s report was “absolutely fabricated and false.”

“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 know the outside council had been hired until several days after the hiring and about the same time other council members learned about the hiring.

During a subsequent town council meeting, however, Town Attorney Shannon Burnett publicly walked back the mayor’s claim that he did not direct or know about the hiring of the outside attorney. Burnett said Franklin did know about the hire before it was made, and that he approved it.

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

Mayor Franklin has had multiple opportunities and ample time to provide evidence of his many accusations and has not done so. What is the point? To sully The Voice in the community’s eyes?

It’s time to produce evidence or to stop the stream of unverified and unsubstantiated accusations against The Voice for everything from conspiracy to fabricating information.

It’s time to get back to governing.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]