City spends 260K in illegal meeting

By: By Kasie Strickland - kstrickland@championcarolinas.com

EASLEY — The purchase of a home on Pendleton Street by the City of Easley has been called into question after it was revealed the City neglected to provide adequate public notice for the special called meeting held Friday, Sept. 21.

During the meeting, city officials passed a resolution authorizing the purchase of the home for $260,000 as part of the plans to renovate Fire Station no.1.

However, the city failed to provide 24-hours notice for the early morning meeting as required by state law.

“There’s a reason for that,” said Easley Mayor Larry Bagwell. “Our computers have been acting up here lately.”

Bagwell stated the city had been relying on their “in-house IT person” Tim Tollison to work on them, but that City Clerk Lisa Chapman’s computer was still “hit or miss.”

Tollison is the Chief of Police for the City of Easley. It is not been made clear if he holds a degree in a computer-related or IT field.

The email announcing the 8 a.m. Friday meeting wasn’t sent out until 9:45 a.m. on Thursday, violating the statute. Additionally, no notice was provided on the City’s website nor via their social media accounts.

Under S.C. Code of Laws Title 30 Chapter 4, commonly known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), all public bodies must give written public notice of their regular meetings at the beginning of each calendar year.

The notice must include the dates, times and places of the meetings.

The law further states an agenda for regularly scheduled or special meetings must be posted on a bulletin board in a publicly accessible place at the office or meeting place of the public body and on a public website maintained by the body at least 24 hours prior to such meetings.

“Such notice must include the agenda, date, time, and place of the meeting and must be posted as early as is practicable but not later than 24-hours before the meeting,” the law reads.

When asked why the meeting wasn’t simply pushed to 10 a.m. in order to be in compliance with state law, Bagwell responded the meeting had been planned “since early on in the week.”

As to why Clerk to Council Lisa Chapman apparently waited until (past) the last minute before providing notification, Bagwell said he didn’t know.

“I’m not a secretary,” he said, before again referencing her computer problems.

According to South Carolina Press Association (SCPA) attorney Jay Bender, the problem arises in the fact that it ultimately doesn’t matter whether the public notice deadline was missed by 1 hour 45 mins., or 3 hours or whether notice wasn’t given at all — the results are the same.

By failing to provide legal public notice during the meeting where $260K of tax payer’s money was spent, the city opened itself up to potential litigation including civil action, awarding of attorney’s fees to any prevailing complainant and invalidation of the action (sale) taken, he said.

“Bottom line? It’s illegal — and they should have known better,” said Bender when asked about the situation during an editor’s roundtable meeting at the SCPA headquarters in Columbia on Friday.

When asked if the meeting would be nullified and re-held with proper public notification, Bagwell wasn’t sure but said he was “willing to take whatever steps were necessary” to rectify the situation.

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By Kasie Strickland

kstrickland@championcarolinas.com

Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.

Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.