Editorial: This newspaper won’t sell its soul for $29,400

Following an hour-long executive session on April 20, in which Nexsen Pruet attorney David Black and attorney Shannon Burnett updated council on two lawsuits the Town of Blythewood is involved in with MPA Strategies, Mr. Black told council that The Voice’s publisher has cost the Town almost $70,000 for FOIA requests submitted in regard to the two lawsuits.

Unless I missed something, The Voice only submitted six FOIA requests concerning the MPA lawsuits, and received the following responsive documents: 3 RFPs (Requests for Proposals), 13 pages and a link (not copies) to 1,886 documents, about half of which I did not ask for – hardly $70,000 of FOIA responses.

Mr. Black’s ‘almost $70,000’ claim is preposterous, untrue and, probably impossible. It was the latest salvo by Mr. Franklin’s team to spread false allegations against The Voice.

This issue tracks back to Franklin’s angst after council voted 3-2 on Feb. 22, 2021, to hire MPA Strategies over the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce (his choice), to provide marketing and grant writing services for the town for $40,000 annually. 

Within months of that vote, MPA had filed a lawsuit against the Town after Mr. Franklin failed to submit responsive documents to MPA as required by law, and then Mr. Franklin, Attorney Shannon Burnett and Town Administrator Carroll Williamson hired Attorney David Black and filed a countersuit against MPA, both without the knowledge or consent of town council. On July 20 2021, council voted 3-1 to terminate MPA’s contract in what may have been an illegal meeting. Both lawsuits are pending.

Since then, Mr. Franklin has consoled himself with the idea that MPA did not win the vote or obtain the contract fair and square, but conspired with Councilman Donald Brock and others to steal the vote.

After The Voice’s publisher would not peddle that narrative, Mr. Franklin and Mr. Black lumped The Voice in with the other ‘conspirators.’

While Mr. Black offered no proof to back up his ‘almost $70,000’ claim, records obtained by The Voice show that the Town was actually invoiced for $20,045.50 by Nexsen Pruet for combined FOIA responses issued to The Country Chronicle ($12,269.00 ) and to The Voice ($7,776.50) – an exorbitant amount for maybe 10 – 12 FOIA requests from two newspapers.

However, Mr. Franklin is the one totally responsible for those high costs, not The Voice.

Instead of each councilman turning over those documents that were responsive to the FOIA requests, as is common, Mr. Franklin insisted on having the data on their devices pulled, exported, separated etc., etc. by a computer forensic expert at a cost of $200 per hour which could end up costing $500 per device.

 It was an expensive process for which Mr. Franklin was willing to pay, even though the S.C. Freedom of Information Act requires public bodies to provide records at the lowest possible cost.

As Mr. Franklin and Mr. Black began making unfounded allegations against MPA, Mr. Brock, The Voice and others, The Country Chronicle’s editor, Tonya Page,  began publishing Mr. Franklin’s and Mr. Black’s mantra.

Page wrote recently that, “Black asserted that the allegations in Blythewood’s counterclaims were justified and that Brock, Hunter and Dickey [MPA’s attorney] had conspired with Voice publisher Barbara Ball to promote MPA and to discredit Blythewood Mayor Bryan Franklin.”

If Mr. Franklin was discredited, it was his own doing, demonizing The Voice in public town council meetings – once for 20 excruciating minutes – and in the media. He seems driven in his quest, blurting out to one audience, “No one reads The Voice. I don’t!” and other similar disparaging remarks. 

The Financial Solution

As The Voice has not and will not bow to Mr. Franklin’s pressure to conform, the Blythewood town government and town attorney Shannon Burnett eventually withdrew their advertising from The Voice but continue advertising with The Country Chronicle.

The loss of that combined advertising revenue which, in the year prior, amounted to more than $29,400, was a financial blow to the newspaper’s already no-frills budget.

If Mr. Franklin’s team’s intent is to bully or starve The Voice into submission or to turn the community against the newspaper, more’s the pity. They may have grossly misjudged their abilities in that respect.

The Voice will continue to publish the news objectively, thoroughly and without reservation as long as our doors are open.

But one thing is as certain as the Heavens, this newspaper is not going to sell its soul for $29,400.

Comments

  1. Dawn Willingham says

    They need to stop being drama queens and be upfront with stuff.

  2. Angela Harrison says

    This newspaper has no “soul” and certainly isn’t always objective. Every single person in the public realm has felt the sting of the twisted words of this paper, especially those who stand up to the paper. Thank God the slanted pieces did not give the outcome you wanted in Ridgeways’s last election!

  3. Three cheers for Barbara Ball and The Voice for standing up to the bullies. Suffering retaliation through canceled advertising is never fun, but The Voice will survive. Where do I subscribe? 1,000 new subscribers at $35 will replace short-sighted action by the Town and the Town Attorney.

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