Blackville holds closed meeting on private club

The purpose of the June 21 hearing was to allow the public to hear Blackville's town budget for the coming fiscal year and ask questions - a legality that municipalities endure each year.

However, other questions entered later that evening into Blackville's regular council meeting.

Bridgette Brown spoke to council and presented them with copies of her state alcohol license and other documents regarding the opening of Brown's business, Brown's Lounge, in Blackville.

Later in the meeting, Councilman Kelvin Isaac made a motion to go into executive session to discuss the "hours of operation for businesses and establishments in Blackville." Isaac also said he would like to include specifically "Brown's Lounge."

According to Section 30-4-70 of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, a public body can go into a meeting closed to the public only for specific reasons.

These reasons include: discussion of the discipline, pay, promotion, demotion, hiring or firing of an employee under the public body's authority, like a town employee.

A public body can also enter into executive session for discussion of security personnel or devices, proposed contractual arrangements or tentative sale of property or for legal advice.

The legal advice must be related to a "pending, threatened, or potential claim of other matters covered by the attorney-client privilege...," according to the S.C. FOI Act.

A provision is allowed in the S.C. FOI Act for a public body to have an executive session for the "discussion of matters relating to the proposed location, expansion, or the provision of services encouraging location or expansion of industries or other businesses in the area served by the public body."

However, this provision in the S.C. FOI Act is for economic development reasons, said Bill Rogers, the executive director of the S.C. Press Association.

"I don't think that (provision) is the intent of the law. It's for industrial development matters. That's industrial recruitment, not business licenses," he said.

The Blackville Town Council had previously approved the agenda for the meeting which did not include an executive session and no motion was made to amend the agenda for one prior to Isaac making the motion.

Brown had left the meeting before Isaac made the motion.

Police Chief John Holston and Town Clerk Harriet McKnight were also in the executive session at the invitation of Mayor Jackie Holman.

Brown previously appeared before Blackville Council during its April meeting to plead her case for a business license to operate a lounge in town. Her initial business license application had been denied by the town.

At the April meeting, Brown presented council with a business plan which included security measures, hours of operation and various other details.

After discussion and questions to Brown, council voted to approve her business license based on her presentation.

During the June 21 meeting, council stayed in executive session for almost 30 minutes.

When council returned to chambers Holman said, "The only thing we decided was that we would follow state laws and town law."

Councilman Michael Beasley then made a motion to adjourn the executive session.

When questioned after the adjournment of the meeting, Holman said he did not know under which FOI rule the motion to go into executive session would apply.

Holman said he was not sure that they should have gone into executive session to discuss the issue.

He said he knew council had "mixed emotions" about the hours of the proposed lounge and he wanted to "get some clarity" on the issue.

Public bodies are not supposed to take action or make a vote while in executive session, but return to open session before doing so.

"The members of a public body may not commit the public body to a course of action by a polling of members in executive session," according to Section 30-4-70 of the S.C. FOI Act.