Towns, county hold civil but direct meeting

A meeting was held Thursday, Nov. 16 without lawyers in a neutral site between four governmental entities that have been at odds for several years.

The Barnwell County Council met with the mayors and at least one councilman from each of the municipalities of Barnwell, Blackville and Williston. They came together to discuss issues related to the Barnwell County Economic Development Corporation and Commission.

The three municipalities filed suit last March alleging the Barnwell County Council had broken an agreement made with the towns concerning representation and oversight of the EDC. The towns and the county have been at odds since 2013 when former EDC commissioners deeded millions of dollars’ worth of property and cash away from the corporation to the municipalities.

The towns returned the assets after an agreement was made between the towns and the county.

Then, the county council passed several ordinances which moved all the money to the county treasurer, eliminated the EDC executive director’s position, contracted with SouthernCarolina Alliance to handle the county’s economic development efforts and threatened to eliminate the corporation.

Barnwell County Council Chairman Lowell Jowers said the closed door meeting was an attempt to resolve the issues and “start working together again.”

They met for nearly 90 minutes in the Community Room of the Barnwell County Library.

Following the meeting the City of Barnwell Mayor Ed Lemon said the meeting went “pretty good” although nothing was settled. “It was a step in the right direction.”

Town of Blackville Mayor Michael Beasley said, “Progress was made but we will have to wait and see. Everyone seems to want to work together. There are some challenges and we will need to meet back on those challenges. We also need to meet on issues other than the EDC.”

Town of Williston Mayor Jason Stapleton said, “We all want to work for what is best for Barnwell County. We came tonight to see what can be done. We will be sending a proposal to the county.”

All said the discussion was civil but direct as issues were aired.

The men did not immediately schedule another meeting.