Towns, county to meet Nov. 16
The Barnwell County Council and the mayors from the municipalities of Barnwell, Blackville and Williston are slated to sit down this week and talk. The topic of discussion is the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission (EDC) and Corporation.
Council Chairman Lowell Jowers confirmed this week the meeting will be held on Thursday, Nov. 16 at the Barnwell County Library – “a neutral site”.
“It is just the mayors and council, no attorneys present,” said Jowers. “We want to sit down like gentlemen and try to get this thing settled and start working again.”
“This thing” is a lawsuit filed in March by the three municipalities against the Barnwell County Council and the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission. The suit alleges the County Council broke an agreement with the towns over direction of the EDC and the corporation’s assets.
The suit was filed after the Barnwell County Council passed an ordinance.
“Maybe we can stop the lawsuits on all sides,” said Jowers.
The special called meeting has only one item on the agenda – a closed session to discuss “contract negotiations related to the resolution of EDC issues.”
Williston Mayor Jason Stapleton, Blackville Mayor Michael Beasley and Barnwell Mayor Ed Lemon have confirmed they plan to attend.
A little history
Three local municipalities filed suit March 23 against the County of Barnwell and the Barnwell County Economic Development Corporation. The suit claims an ordinance approved March 14 by the Barnwell County Council “was adopted illegally” and “violates and breaches the agreements between the Municipalities and the County”.
The ordinance in question allowed for all the property held by the Barnwell County Economic Development Corporation to be moved into Barnwell County’s hands and took away all but advisory power from the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission which had overseen control of the property and funds held by the Corporation.
Since the filing of the lawsuit the Barnwell County Council approved a second ordinance on May 9 that “restates, supersedes and replaces” the first ordinance.
The county has filed an “answer” in a lawsuit filed by three local municipalities, basically saying the towns’ complaint is “moot and presents no case.”
The County Council has also approved a contract for SouthernCarolina Alliance to take over all economic development efforts for Barnwell County. Additionally, EDC executive director Tommy Boyleston’s county job was assimilated by SCA. He is now an employee of SCA but continues to manage economic development efforts for Barnwell County as he did before.
The agreements referred to in the original lawsuit are those reached in 2014 and 2015 whereby the municipalities would deed over properties and assets in return for representation on the EDC commission and a voice on how those properties are handled.
A former EDC commission deeded $14 million in property and assets to the municipalities in 2013 in a dispute with Barnwell County Council. The county and the municipalities negotiated for nearly a year to reach the agreement before the municipalities deeded the property and assets back to the corporation.
The suit asks for the court to declare that the March county ordinance was adopted improperly, in violation of law and violated agreements between the governmental entities. It also seeks to “invalidate any actions of the County, and its Council and anyone acting on behalf of the County, to change or reduce the powers of the Corporation.”
The suit also asks that the court deem the September and October 2014 ordinances as binding on the current and any future county councils.