EDC approves resolution to ratify all previous decisions

The Barnwell County Economic Development Commission approved a resolution Monday evening which ratifies all decisions of the commission and the corporation’s board of directors, which have been identical, from its inception until present day with the exception of December 2013.

The resolution was passed in a split 3-2 vote during a 10-minute special called meeting held at EDC offices in Barnwell.

Voting in favor were Chairman Steve Jowers along with Commissioners Keith Sloan and Joe Smith. Voting against were Commissioners Toby Singletary and Will Kearse.

The resolution notes that the board of directors for both the commission and the corporation have been identical since the inception of the organization. It also states that “over the years the meetings of the Board of Directors of the corporation and the meetings of the Board of Directors of the Commission have been held simultaneously, with the business of the corporation being voted on during those meetings.”

With the exception of December 2013 when properties were transferred from the corporation to the municipalities of Barnwell, Blackville and Williston, the resolution states all meetings were scheduled “with due and proper advance notice”. The EDC and Barnwell County are currently being sued by the three municipalities over actions related to the 2013 transfer of property.

The resolution states that “actions of the board of directors in approving transactions of both real and personal property were and have been relied upon by third parties in the conclusion of the transactions.”

The resolution states that the EDC “upon reflection, to remove any doubt about the validity of the decisions made by prior boards due to incidental and inadvertent failure to observe formalities of procedure, the Board of Directors has determined that the actions and decisions of prior boards should be formally ratified by this Board, with the exclusion of the decisions made in December 2013 by the Board of Directors to transfer assets to the City of Barnwell, and Towns of Williston and Blackville and to otherwise dispose of the corporation’s property.”

The resolution deems that the EDC “takes no position on the validity of the actions taken in December 2013 by the Board of Directors to transfer assets to the City of Barnwell, and Towns of Williston and Blackville and to otherwise dispose of the corporation’s property, believing those actions are the subject of litigation and should be resolved through the courts.”

Prior to the vote the only discussion was made by Barnwell County Councilman Don Harper during the public comment period of the meeting. Harper, who is one of the county council’s liaisons to the EDC, said that prior to December 2013 there was a meeting “off site and out of the county at Lake Murray.” He said, “Some members on county council, some of whom are currently on the EDC” were at that meeting.

He said this information was brought out in testimony during a civil case which the county filed against former EDC employee Sonja Hiers. Hiers won that lawsuit.

While Harper did not name names, his remarks seemingly were directed at Keith Sloan and Joe Smith, both of whom are former county councilmen and now are EDC commissioners.

“How can you sit here in good conscience and say you didn’t know what went on?” said Harper.

Harper did not elaborate about what happened at that out-of-county meeting.

Traditionally during public comment periods, the public is allowed to speak but commissioners do not respond.

Chairman Jowers told Harper, “We respect your comments.”

Keith Sloan started to respond to Harper’s comments but Jowers told him that discussion was not appropriate at that time.

After the meeting EDC Tommy Boyleston explained that the resolution was drafted upon advice by the EDC’s legal counsel, not at the urging of any commissioners.

At the EDC’s July 31 meeting, commissioners were advised on the resolution by their attorneys during closed session, said Boyleston.

July 31 Meeting

Most of Barnwell County Economic Development Commission’s July 31 meeting was spent behind closed doors for project and legal updates.

Meeting at the Southern Carolina Business Center were Commission Chairman Steve Jowers, Keith Sloan, Joe Smith, Will Kearse and Toby Singletary.

During the June meeting Commissioner Chip Still resigned. EDC Executive Director said that since that meeting Commissioner John Trottie has also resigned. Both were appointed by the Barnwell County Council. Boyleston said he has not heard from council regarding replacements.

Boyleston said there was no old or new business to discuss in open session but there were numerous topics for the commissioners to discuss in closed session.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, government bodies can go into closed session to discuss pending economic development projects and receive legal advice.

The five members present met for nearly two hours to discuss confidential projects and talk with attorneys Marty Harvey and Connor Parker, whom they hired in June to represent them in a lawsuit. The lawsuit was filed by three municipalities against Barnwell County and the Economic Development Corporation over a dispute involving the EDC.

Upon returning to open session, the Chairman Jowers said they had no business to vote upon and commissioners then voted to adjourn.