Town’s MPA expenses soar as court dates are delayed

Town Has Spent $148K On Outside Legal Costs

BLYTHEWOOD – While court dates for the MPA Strategies/Town of Blythewood lawsuit appearances continue to be postponed, the Town’s legal expenses for those lawsuits continue to climb.

As of the Town’s May 2021-22 Revenue and Expense Report, the Town’s outside legal expenses have risen $37,065.83 over the previous month.

The FY 2021-22 budget year’s outside legal expenses stand at $148,398.51, exceeding the budgeted amount by $3,398.51 or 2.34 percent.

Council has increased the outside legal budget to $200,000 for FY 2022-23.

Outside legal expenses generally have to do with expenses related to lawsuits the Town is involved in.

In an interview in February, 2022, Councilman Rich McKenrick told The Voice he believes the Town’s outside attorney David Black with Nexsen Pruet law firm in Columbia is the payee for most of the Town’s outside legal expenses. Black represents the Town in an FOIA lawsuit filed by MPA strategies as well as the Town’s countersuit against MPA.

Town’s Costs for MPA lawsuits

Those expenses have mushroomed from $25,000 last fiscal year to $60,000 in FY 2021-22, after Mayor Bryan Franklin authorized the hiring of attorney David Black, with Nexsen Pruet law firm, to handle legal issues with MPA Strategies, a firm council voted 3-2 to hire in February, 2021, to market the town.

In the spring of 2022, the budget for outside legal expenses were raised to $145,000

Legal Costs Soaring

According to the Town’s online monthly financial reports for outside legal expenses, the Town spent a total of $14,362.00 in April, May and June of FY 2021 and $78,929.13 over the next three months, for a total of $93,929.13 as of Dec. 31, 2021. As of June 29, 2022, the outside legal costs stand at almost $150,000, just $50,000 shy of the total budgeted for outside legal expenses for the FY 2022-23 budget, which begins July 1, 2022.

Court Dates Continued

The court was asked for a roster continuance for the non-jury trial for the week of May 9, 2022 and again for June 14, 2022. The next roster meeting is set for July 11, 2022.

Black was initially hired by Franklin, Carroll Williamson and Town Attorney Shannon Burnett as an outside attorney to handle an FOIA request that was filed by MPA Strategies marketing firm’s attorney Joseph Dickey, on April 15, 2021. That request asked for Franklin’s texts, emails and other documents referencing MPA and its owner/CEO Ashley Hunter.

The request was filed after the finalization of MPA’s marketing contract with the Town was delayed for almost two months and after rumors were allegedly spread about Hunter and Blythewood Town Councilman Donald Brock.

When Franklin failed to submit the responsive documents to Dickey as required by law, MPA filed a lawsuit on June 28, 2021, to obtain them.

Approximately two weeks after the lawsuit was filed, Franklin submitted the documents to Dickey on July 9, 2021.

It is a violation of S.C. FOIA to not respond to an FOIA request within the statutorily-required time, according to media attorney Taylor Smith, with Harrison Radeker & Smith, P.A.

“When information is turned over after a lawsuit is served, that usually means prevailing party status is given to the requester which almost assures they will win and their attorney’s fees and costs will be paid by taxpayer money,” Smith said.

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