Court date set for EDC lawsuit

Despite discussions in hopes of ending a lawsuit between three local municipalities and the county, legal actions are proceeding.

A consent scheduling order was filed at the Barnwell County Courthouse setting a “non-jury trial” to hear the matter on April 2 before Judge Doyet A. Early.

Barnwell County Council Chairman Lowell Jowers also recently confirmed that no action has been taken since representatives from the county and the municipalities of Barnwell, Blackville and Williston met in November 2017.

Jowers had requested the meeting in hopes of ending the lawsuit filed in March 2017 by the towns against Barnwell County Council and the Barnwell County Economic Development Corporation (EDC). The suit alleges the County Council broke an agreement with the towns over direction of the EDC and the corporation’s assets.

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 in September and October 2014 between the towns and the county.

Then, in early 2017, 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.

The suit asks for the court to declare that the March 2017 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.

Over the last year the lawsuit has been simmering.

Jowers said the November closed door meeting without attorneys was an attempt to resolve the issues and “start working together again.”

The mayors and a councilman from each town met privately with the Barnwell County Council for nearly 90 minutes during that meeting at the Barnwell County Library.

At the conclusion of that meeting, the mayors indicated that a proposal would be drafted and sent to the county. The contents of that proposal have not been disclosed as it is a pending legal matter.

At their December 12 meeting, the Barnwell County Council met in closed session to discuss a legal matter related to the EDC but no action was taken following that meeting and the councilmen issued no comments on the matter. The January meeting did not include discussion of the matter.

The response to the towns’ proposal was silence.

Recently Chairman Jowers as well as attorneys representing the towns confirmed that the lawsuit is moving forward.

The consent order was issued by Chief Administrative Judge for the Second Judicial Circuit William P. Keesley and filed Friday, Jan. 19 requiring all the parties to complete mediations by March 2 and set the hearing date for April 2 before Judge Early.