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Actions of County Council Chairman called into question

An Opinion of the Editor
web posted March 27, 2009
COLUMN – A community correspondent for the Edgefield Advertiser, Linda Nidiffer, presented an interesting question in her column this week - can County Council Chairman Monroe Kneece make motions, or vote for that matter on issues before the council. She correctly asserts that Chairman Kneece has made motions and voted on the matters more than once in recent meetings. She queried if Robert’s Rules of Order allowed Chairman Kneece to afford himself the liberties he is taking as Chairman of the County Council. We decided to look into the matter and the findings are quite interesting.

Researching Robert’s Rules of Order, which have been adopted as parliamentary procedures for county council meetings, and the South Carolina Code of Laws governing the responsibilities of the County Council Chairman, nowhere is it codified that the chairman can bring forth a motion for a vote. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

According to Robert’s Rules of Order, a “member” of the body must first be “recognized by the chair” in order to bring forth a motion for consideration. A second of the motion is required from another “member” and the second is to be directed towards the chair in order for discussions or a vote to be held. 

Furthermore, the chair is not to be part of the debate of a matter before the body and can only provide facts already before the body for clarification. The clarifications of the responsibilities of the chair are spelled out clearly in Article X, Section 58.

In the same section it specifically states that, “The chairman sometimes calls a member to the chair and takes part in the debate. This should rarely be done, and nothing can justify it in a case where much feeling is shown and there is a liability to difficulty in preserving order. If the chairman has even the appearance of being a partisan, he loses much of his ability to control those who are on the opposite side of the question. There is nothing to justify the unfortunate habit some chairmen have of constantly speaking on questions before the assembly, even interrupting the member who has the floor. One who expects to take an active part in debate should never accept the chair, or at least should not resume the chair, after having made his speech, until after the pending question is disposed of. The presiding officer of a large assembly should never be chosen for any reason except his ability to preside.”

Chairman Kneece is on record taking an active role in debates of motions before the council including those he has made himself and other rules suggest the chair (Chairman) is to cast a vote only in the result of a tie of the governing body.

A cursory search of the SC Code of Laws does not provide for an absolution of Robert’s Rules of Order on the role of the chairman of a county council with a county that chose to have a council and administrator form of government.

Regardless, the chair of the public body is to oversee the debate by other members of the body. He is to remain impartial during those debates on a question (motion, resolution, or other matter) before the body according to Roberts Rules of Order.

Does this mean the motions made by County Council Chairman Monroe Kneece are invalid? Not being a scholar of Robert’s Rules of Order, nor a lawyer, that determination is better left to more competent jurists.

But the question certainly deserves clarification by the County Attorney.

It is also dutiful to note that Chairman Kneece has recently announced after executive sessions that a decision was made behind closed door meetings. The most recent was the announcement at the March 3 County Council meeting in which the members emerged from an executive session to have Chairman Kneece announce, “That we decided that we were not going to pursue anything further on the Calliham property” (which was up for public sale). Chairman Kneece then called for a motion to adjourn which was given and the meeting ended without a public vote in open session on the action, or inaction, of the county council as required by law.

EdgefieldDaily.com has reported other incidents where Chairman Kneece announced a decision after exiting executive sessions and has provided audio recordings in some cases reported and has all cases, reported or not, on file.

The serious question that remains for County Council members Genia Blackwell and Rodney Ashcraft is, will they be the ones to address the problems that plague our county government or become just two more of those who “go along to get along”?

During research for this column it was also discovered that the county council can only provide funding, by law, to non-governmental bodies from “additional funds” available to the county. How Administrator John Pettigrew can justify his personal insertion of almost $45,000 in “additional” funding for Piedmont Tech, or the county council’s 3-2 vote to fund “additional funding” for the Tompkins Library” when the county is running a negative budget this year, remains to be justified not only morally, but also legally.

“Council may make supplemental appropriations which shall specify the source of funds for such appropriations. The procedure for approval of supplemental appropriations shall be the same as that prescribed for enactment of ordinances.
For the purposes of this section a supplemental appropriation shall be defined as an appropriation of additional funds which have come available during the fiscal year and which have not been previously obligated by the current operating or capital budget. The provisions of this section shall not be construed to prohibit the transfer of funds appropriated in the annual budget for purposes other than as specified in such annual budget when such transfers are approved by the council.”
SECTION 4-9-140

I eagerly await the justification of “additional funds” being dispensed by the county council while they also enact an across the board reduction of pay to county employees and can still find “additional funds” (surplus funds) to provide free money to non-governmental agencies.

This will most likely be met with legal challenges in the court system by taxpayers. State law requires the county council to provide for the necessary functions of the county government.


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