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County Officials need a refresher course on rules and laws of meetings

web posted September 8, 2006

OPINION – Edgefield County Officials need a refresher course on the rules and laws regarding public meetings. To make small mistakes on rare occasions is perfectly understandable and completely innocent. Making major, and at times illegal maneuvers, is neither acceptable nor innocent.

In the last ten days Edgefield County government bodies meeting have done the following; held closed discussions and a vote out of public view, held two readings of an ordinance within minutes of each other, appointed an appointed official to a second position within the same office, and refused to ask who took the liberty of making line item vetoes of elected officials budgets before being presented to the County Council.

The blunder of a closed session vote by the Election Commission last Thursday seems to be just that. The commission seemed to be unaware of the rules of running a meeting and announced the closed session vote before going out of the public’s view. However, County Attorney Buzzy Byrd was present at the hearing, and was with the Election Committee in the executive session. The Election Committee Chairwoman Carroll Rhodes brought the commission back to public and announced their decision, which could only be determined by a private vote since none was taken in public. 

In the September 5 County Council meeting Mr. Byrd was again present when County Council Chairman Monroe Kneece held a second and third reading of the same ordinance within minutes of each other. Again, Mr. Byrd, the County Attorney, did not speak up to correct the possible legal implication of the council’s actions.

At the same meeting, Mr. Byrd sat quiet as the county council appointed Clerk to Council Barbara Stark to a second “position of honor” by tapping her for the interim administrator for the county. Mrs. Stark denies holding both positions constitutes duel offices, but several other elected officials and some legal experts tend to disagree. County Councilmen Joel Hudson and Willie Bright both agree that there is a question that needs to be addressed in the matter.

Vice-chairman Willie Bright also admitted the county council held two votes on the ordinance to amend the budget on Tuesday night. Mr. Bright said he knew “something was wrong, but it all happened so fast,” he did not have time to move to correct the situation. He questioned why Administrator Wayne Adams, who was attending his last meeting in the county before leaving for Newberry, or County Attorney Byrd did not stop the proceedings. That is a good question indeed.

Mr. Bright asked why EdgefieldDaily.com or any other media outlet did not stand up and question the actions being taken. EdgefieldDaily.com informed Mr. Bright it is not the media’s job to direct the way a meeting is run, just accurately report what took place.

One thing that stands out is Edgefield County Attorney Buzzy Bryd should have stopped the closed door vote of the Election Commission but did not. Mr. Byrd should have also stopped two readings being taken on the same ordinance within minutes and the questionable appointment of Stark to a second office. Administrator Adams also should have spoken up on the issues.

It is clear that nobody seems to be worth their salt in fulfilling the duties of their position. Perhaps rather than taking trips to Hilton Head and other conferences, county officials should enroll in a class at Piedmont Tech on Roberts Rules of Order and South Carolina laws governing meetings of public bodies, if it is offered. Regardless, a simple read of either would no doubt enlighten many on what can and cannot take place.

Ignorance of the law is no defense to breaking it.

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