Council, public undaunted by civility pledge

Chamber members in attendance booed, laughed and shouted complaints to council members. | Photo: The Town of Blythewood

BLYTHEWOOD – Blythewood Town Council adopted a resolution Monday night as suggested by the S.C. Municipal Association for all city governments across the state, pledging to “practice and promote civility.”

Shortly thereafter, things turned decidedly uncivil, as has frequently been the case in Blythewood Town Council meetings since the mayor began openly targeting The Voice and others, including fellow Town Councilmen Larry Griffin and Donald Brock and County Councilman Derrek Pugh from the dais for sometimes up to 20 uninterrupted minutes at a time – each of which can be viewed on You Tube.

The first issue for discussion Monday was the Chamber of Commerce’s request to receive the final 20 percent, or $3,200, of its hospitality tax appropriation from the Town for the Doko Rib Fest Cook-off, which the chamber organizes every spring with funds provided by the Town.

The request is not designed for the events to automatically receive the 20% funding. The organizer must answer specific and detailed questions on the application, according to rules already set by council.

Council essentially denied the chamber’s request for the 20 percent last month when a split council voted 2-2 to table. The rodeo owner, Buck Coggins, was also denied 20 percent by another 2-2 vote.

The town provided $16,000 to the chamber and $25,000 to the rodeo for their events. The chamber said its expenses from the Ribfest were $87,250.55, but the revenue was only $84,032.50. Even with the 20 percent, Frye said the chamber would have lost money.

Following the July 25, 2-2 vote, Councilman Eddie Baughman posted on Facebook that it was “Almost as this was planned out knowing a council member was missing…” However he did not explain how one have of the 2 -2 vote was more planned than the other half of which he was a part.

Brock maintained at the previous meeting that neither the chamber nor the rodeo had properly completed their applications, making them ineligible for the 20 percent funding. Both he and Griffin questioned the chamber’s and rodeo’s reported revenues and financial records.

Because the allocation of funds for these events is predicated on the percentage of visitors from outside of town attending them, Brock questioned the chambers’ skewed method of proving visitor attendance. It gave the percentage of vendors who come from out of town (most of which come from out of town), not the percentage of attendees, to determine how many visitors attended the festival from outside of the town.

After council voted 4-1 in favor of allocating 20 percent funds to the chamber, Brock said, “Mr. Mayor, this is a joke. This is a joke. I’m not laughing. It’s actually quite sad.”

In particular, Brock accused Frye of using personal friendships with the council majority to secure a favorable vote under the guise of substantive changes in the chamber’s previous request.

“If you don’t like the democratic process, that’s unfortunate,” Brock said. “This is the second time this organization (the chamber) has not liked the result of a vote and they’ve said there’s something materially different [in their report], and there’s not.

“This is nepotism at its finest. Google it. It is,” he said. “You’ve got three friends on council. One was absent [last month] and you didn’t like the vote, now you’ve got your three [votes], and you’re bringing it back. We’re going to have the same thing happen next month,” he continued, referencing the possibility the rodeo will also come back for a re-vote on its 20 percent.

“We don’t write checks for our friends?” Brock scoffed, mocking a phrase Franklin used previously to infer Brock was acting inappropriately when he spoke in favor of MPA Strategies qualifications over the chamber’s qualifications to market the town.

“Bull**hit. That’s what you’re doing tonight, Brock said.”

Brock’s expletive elicited gasps from some chamber members in the audience who held up “Enough is Enough” signs when Brock spoke. Sutton Shaw, whose Big Red Barn Retreat has received over $100K from the Town government this year, said Brock’s profanity ran counter to the council’s civility pledge.

“I stand by my comments. It’s a joke,” Brock responded.

When the Juneteenth agenda item (for the 20 percent funding) came up for  a vote, Councilman McKenrick, who had found no fault with the chamber reporting data, called for the Juneteenth agenda item to be removed from the agenda altogether.

Baughman joined McKenrick’s efforts to deny the vote to the Juneteenth group, but they were out-voted 3-2.

The applicant provided all receipts and proofs of payment to reflect the proper use of H Tax funds for the block party up to $19,847.21.  Based on this, staff recommends that Council award a final amount of $1,047.21. 

Williamson said about 700 people attended, with 12 coming from out of state.

McKenrick said he previously requested a special meeting to address unanswered logistical questions he had, but no meeting was ever scheduled. He also voiced concerns about changes in the original request.

“What are we doing, changing the applicant’s request for $24,000 into something different?”

Council members voted 3-2 to approve the funding application from organizers of the Juneteenth block party, with council members Baughman and McKenrick opposed.

Both groups received their full funding,

Baughman told the audience Monday night that he felt that Coggins and Frye had been treated unfairly at the July 25 meeting when questioned about their application data. Griffin said he felt the Juneteenth representatives were treated badly as well. Of the three groups, Baughman said he called Coggins (rodeo) and Frye (chamber) to apologize for how they were treated.

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