Chapin clerk: 'We want to remain a democracy' - - Columbia, South Carolina

Chapin clerk: 'We want to remain a democracy'

Chapin Town Clerk Adrienne Thompson Chapin Town Clerk Adrienne Thompson

A quorum of Chapin Town Council members passed first reading and named an interim town attorney Thursday without any say from the town's mayor and another councilman.

Mayor Pro Tem Vivian "Bibi" Atkins and council members Kay Hollis and Robert Frick continued with a special called council meeting that the three orchestrated despite protest by Mayor Skip Wilson. Wilson and Councilman Greg White released a statement to the media an hour before Thursday's meeting to say they would not be in attendance.

"We have reached out several times to each of the three members individually to discuss, either in person or by phone, the issues they have with the agenda and hiring of a town attorney, but each of them has refused to respond or acknowledge our efforts to work together for the common good of Chapin," the statement read.

Thursday's meeting had two agenda items: to amend a town ordinance that currently allows the mayor veto power over all agenda items and to appoint an interim town attorney. The three council members unanimously passed first reading of the amended ordinance and appointed former town attorney David Knight to serve as interim attorney. Knight accepted the appointment at the meeting.

Atkins previously requested to put the two items on a past town council agenda, but Wilson denied her request. Atkins, Hollis and Frick filed a lawsuit that was dismissed last month by Judge G. Thomas Cooper Jr., who stated in his order to dismiss that the mayor has final say over council agenda items. However, the plaintiffs' attorney said the town's ordinance conflicts with state law.

After Town Clerk Adrienne Thompson released the special meeting agenda this week, Wilson's attorney filed a motion to Cooper requesting that he order the meeting not be held. Cooper could not hear the motion this week, but instead sent a letter to Wilson's attorney Todd Carroll and the plaintiffs' attorney Spencer "Andy" Syrett. Cooper's letter stated that the action of the three council members "could be illegal," but made no ruling on the matter.

However, Wilson and White used that letter to state that the three council members' "actions will be considered as contempt of court" for holding Thursday's meeting.

"Therefore, we have decided that we will not be in attendance at tonight's meeting given the question of its legality, not only for its violation of the court order, but also the question of whether FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requirements were violated by the council members who chose to call the special meeting over the weekend without alerting the two of us or the media of their plans to meet to discuss the special meeting," Wilson and White's statement stated.

Syrett said his clients were not violating any court order by holding the special meeting Thursday.

Thompson also commented at the Thursday meeting that she notified all council members, the media and "everybody she could think of that has an interest" in Chapin about the special meeting after she received notification Monday."

"This meeting was not against the mayor," Atkins said.

Several town residents, who were in attendance at the meeting, stood during a brief public comment time and expressed thankfulness and encouragement to the three council members present for their actions at the meeting and those that led up to the meeting.

Thompson also addressed the public after she says she's had to deny many of their requests to be placed on past council meeting agendas.

"The clerk is supposed to have input on the agendas," Thompson said. "Since Mayor Wilson has been elected, he would not let me put one word – I could not change one word or add one word to the agenda. There are people who are writing in and asking to be put on the agenda, and he has refused every single one of them. He has refused council repeatedly to put items on the agenda."

"That's why we are here. He's trying to silence me. He has tried to silence council, and he is trying to silence the public," Thompson continued. "We are a democracy, and we want to remain a democracy."

Council set another meeting for 7 p.m. April 17 to have second reading of the amended ordinance.

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