In our Feb. 26 edition in a story titled "County looks to re-organize EDC board" we said language in a county council ordinance changing the makeup of the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission raised legal questions - but the county's attorney has since provided information that puts some questions to rest.
The county's attorney, J.D. Mosteller, had originally referenced the state Supreme Court's ruling in the lawsuit regarding county-council members appointing themselves to the hospital board for his reasoning for putting language in the ordinance that would place county council members on the EDC board until a new board is appointed.
After last week's publication, Mosteller sent The People-Sentinel an email with an opinion from the state attorney general's office on the matter. The opinion is from 2004 and affirms that it is not illegal for elected officials to sit on a county economic development board.
It reads in part:
"Thus, it is probable that the authority of this commission (EDC board) ... does not exercise any portion of the state's sovereign power.
"... we must conclude that membership on the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission does not constitute an office for dual office holding purposes."
This specific opinion was in regards to a member of Blackville Town Council serving simultaneously on the EDC board.
The Supreme Court ruling said: Assuming part of an elected official's job is economic development, then being on an economic-development board while in elected office would be OK because the positions share the same duties.
Counsel for The People-Sentinel has stated the question would be: Is part of a county council member's job to promote economic development? If so, then being on the EDC board is OK. However, before December 2013, it didn't appear council members had much direct involvement with economic development.
Now, just because something is considered legal doesn't mean somebody won't sue county council for doing it. Council members were under the notion it was OK to be on the hospital board, but look how that turned out.
Council Chairman Freddie Houston has said there needs to be an EDC contact person for potential business prospects and the state Department of Commerce while the situation with three mayors over EDC property is sorted out.
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