Council authorizes Franklin to sue The Voice and others

BLYTHEWOOD  – Blythewood Town Council voted 4-1 Thursday, May 5, to authorize Mayor Bryan Franklin, Town Administrator Carroll Williamson, and the Town’s outside attorneys David Black and Shannon Burnett to take legal action against The Voice and its publisher.

While the Town has already sued MPA Strategies owner Ashley Hunter and threatened to sue Councilman Donald Brock, this is the first time the Town government, with the backing of all but one council member, has raised the specter of a lawsuit against The Voice and its publisher.

Increasingly over the last year, Franklin and Black have accused The Voice and its publisher of conspiring with MPA Strategies and Brock against the Town and Franklin.

No documentation or other evidence has been offered by Franklin or Black suggesting conspiracy by The Voice or its publisher.

Nevertheless, McKenrick, who stated during a council meeting March 7, 2022, that, “I’m all for ending it,” reversed himself last week and made the motion to authorize the mayor’s legal actions retroactively and in the future.

He said his motion was “not intended to dovetail on [The Voice] newspaper’s coverage of this issue, nor the mayor’s responses to the coverage,” McKendrick read from a prepared legal statement.

He said he was, instead, addressing Brock’s statement of April 21, 2022, that he (Brock) did not recognize Nexsen Pruet as the legally hired law firm for the Town of Blythewood, nor the counterclaim [against MPA] filed on behalf of the Town of Blythewood.

“I, as councilman, have seen nothing to make me believe the Town of Blythewood has procedurally handled the MPA lawsuit incorrectly, but Blythewood deserves to know that this council is unified in its position to protect the Town and to do what is legally necessary and required in regard to the actions and the lawsuit filed by MPA Strategies and countered by the Town of Blythewood,” McKenrick read.

He said he wanted to help the Town move forward in a legal and equitable manner.

“To that end,” he said, “I would like to make a motion, that this council affirm and approve all actions taken on behalf of the Town by the mayor, Carroll Williamson, the town attorneys Shannon Burnett and Nexsen-Pruet law firm regarding all matters regarding MPA Strategies, State and Frink Foundation, Donald Brock, The Voice, Barbara Ball, et all, and that such representation by and of such attorneys is hereby reaffirmed and shall continue until further resolutions of same, including any claims, counterclaims filed, answered, appealed or any ancillary issues.”

The Voice had reported that, in April 2021, Franklin hired the Nexsen-Pruet law firm to represent the Town against MPA without council’s knowledge or consent, and that in July 2021, Franklin, Burnett and Williamson filed a counterclaim against MPA Strategies, without council’s knowledge or consent.

A second motion was made by Councilman Eddie Baughman at the same meeting to try to right the ship of a council vote that was taken on July 20, 2021 to terminate the Town’s contract with MPA Strategies.

The Voice had earlier reported that the July 20 vote might not have been legal since the meeting, itself, violated Title III, Chapter 30, Section 30.12 (a) of the Town of Blythewood’s Code of Ordinances, as amended by Ordinance 2020.009, which states, “The council member acting as the presiding officer must be physically present at the meeting.”

Franklin presided over the meeting via zoom, and was not physically present at the meeting.

“I would think a violation of the ordinance would provide a basis to challenge the action taken,” media attorney Jay Bender said at the time.

Commenting on both of council’s votes on Thursday, May 5, Bender said, in an email interview with The Voice, “I guess the adage ‘better later than never’ is a guiding principle for this group which seems to have a difficult time following the law.

“Maybe council hopes nobody remembers what was done without authorization. Ratification of previously taken action is legal, while at the same time revealing that the town is governed by a gang that can’t or won’t shoot straight,” Bender said.

“Take your pick. Would you rather have a council that is sloppy or one that is devious?” he asked.

After McKenick’s motion passed 4-1, with Brock voting against, the Town’s outside attorney David Black said the motion was made, “to actually save the Town money.”

“The Town has been advised that in order to pursue the return of the funds that were improperly paid to MPA Strategies, the counter claim had to be filed,” Black said.

According to MPA’s contract with the Town, however, the amount the Town actually paid Hunter is likely less than $200 and possible as little as zero. 

Hunter’s contract called for her to be paid $48,000 annually to market the town, plus 10 percent of any grants she brought to the Town.

After approximately 11 weeks of employment, the Town terminated her contract on July 20, 2021. The Town would most likely have paid MPA approximately $10,000 ($333.33 per week) toward the annual contract. After subtracting the $10,000 grant awarded to the Town through Hunter’s efforts, the Town’s loss through alleged “improper” payments would have washed out.

The Voice is waiting on an answer from Black after emailing him last week to verify that amount.

Cost to the Town so far for the MPA lawsuit and countersuit is approximately $100,000, and the town administrator has proposed budgeting $200,000 for legal expenses for outside attorneys for the FY 2022-23 budget year.

The Town’s legal costs are being paid for out of the general fund, not out of the mayor’s and council member’s pockets. Baughman stated during a March 7, 2022, budget session, “I could care less if it adds up to $100,000.”

“Their wrong-doing is fully documented and will be revealed to the public at large very soon,” Franklin said of MPA, Brock and The Voice.

But that revelation could have happened as early as Monday, May 9, when the case was set for a hearing where the judge could have ruled on whether to dismiss the case or send it to court.

Instead, on Friday, May 6, three days earlier, Black filed a motion and proposal to continue the case, delaying it further, assuring a continuing cost to The Town.

The next hearing is set for Monday, June 13, at 9 a.m.

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