Council members ask judge to reconsider Chapin mayor decision - - Columbia, South Carolina

Council members ask judge to reconsider Chapin mayor decision


Three Chapin council members filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider what the town's strong mayor is allowed to do when it comes to hiring employees and controlling council meeting agendas.

Chapin council members Kay Hollis, Robert Frick and Vivian "Bibi" Atkins filed a lawsuit against Mayor James "Skip" Wilson, who was sworn in Jan. 7, and new Councilman Greg White.

The plaintiffs requested several court orders telling Wilson he has to put items on the agenda that are requested by town council members; remove the mayor's control over council agendas; cancel the contract given to the current economic development and communications director; void changes Wilson made to the budget to compensate the new job's $45,000 salary and benefits; and pay the town's utility attorney.

Last month, Judge G. Thomas Cooper Jr. dismissed the case, stating Chapin operates in a mayor-council form of government, and Wilson has authority to add or remove agenda items, while also hiring employees for the town. Cooper added that the majority of council approves items for the agenda at the time of the meeting if the mayor will not place them on beforehand.

The motion to reconsider filed Monday asks for the judge to reverse his dismissal order and reconsider his decisions.

Plaintiffs' attorney Spencer "Andy" Syrett states in the motion that waiting until the meeting to amend the agenda violates the Freedom of Information Act for notifying the public of agenda items prior to the meeting.

"The procedure suggested by the court, although apparently provided in the town ordinance, would violate FOIA," the motion states. "Town ordinances in conflict with state statutes are invalid."

Syrett continued by stating it is "ludicrous to conclude that the mayor, having already prevented consideration on several occasions, would suddenly agree to place the item on the next agenda. If not placed on the agenda at the subsequent meeting, FOIA would again prevent consideration."

The motion also points out that even though town council created the economic development and communications director position, it never approved a salary. Karen Owens currently holds this job and is being paid a $45,000 salary, which was decided and organized into the budget by the mayor alone.

"Although council created the position that Ms. Owens now apparently occupies, there is nothing in the minutes and other parts of the record that shows that the compensation was incorporated in the budget," the motion states.

WIS obtained an email sent to Councilwoman Vivian "Bibi" Atkins from Mayor Skip Wilson denying Atkins' request to put a motion appointing an interim town attorney on the meeting agenda for April 1.

"At this time, I'm inclined to defer the consideration until each council member has the opportunity to provide their input, and we have established a consensus and specific guidelines in this matter," Wilson wrote in the email.

He also denied Atkins' request to add an agenda item to amend a town ordinance, stating that he wanted to discuss the issue "as one council member to another."

Also, town clerk Adrienne Thompson also received an email from Wilson this week stating her clerk's letter to council was not authorized to be placed in council packets for the April 1 meeting. The clerk's letter highlights current issues she's having with the mayor. Thompson wrote that she included the letter in the packet because she was stopped from speaking at the council meetings.

WIS requested to speak to Wilson after the April 1 council meeting, but he declined, stating he had to go out of town for family reasons.

Cooper's office said Thursday that the judge has not set a court date to hear the motion. However, a decision on the motion to reconsider can be made without a hearing.

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