Local and State News

Chapin Mayor Accuses Council of Holding “Secret Meeting” to Set Vote Date

By Al Dozier
Wednesday, September 3, 2014

After Chapin Mayor Skip Wilson refused to set an election date for a required referendum on a change in government, his three opponents on Town Council took matters into their own hands.

A petition drive launched by citizens opposed to Wilson’s governing style prompted the ballot proposal, which could change the government from a mayor-council form of government to a council form if approved. The Council would have more authority in the conduct of business if voters decide to make the change.

But at the Aug. 27 meeting, Council could not convince Wilson to put the election date on the agenda, despite the fact that an opinion had just been issued by the state attorney general saying the council had the authority to set a date for the vote.

After Wilson announced the meeting was adjourned and made his exit along with Councilman Gregg White and a crowd of people who were in the audience, Council members Bibi Atkins, Kay Hollis and Robbie Frick returned to the Council table. 

Atkins, serving in her role as mayor pro-tem, resumed the meeting.

They voted on the Sept. 30 date and agreed to submit their request to the Lexington County Election Commission on Friday.

Wilson’s office says the Council’s action during a “secret” meeting is invalid and unauthorized by town laws.

Karen Owens, the town’s director of communications and economic development, says that according to the mayor’s interpretation of the law, adjournment does not require a vote, just a second to the motion — and thus the mayor had adjourned the meeting before the three members took their action, rendering it invalid.

But Attorney Andy Syrett, who represents the three council members, says adjournment does require a vote. He says it’s clearly stated in Robert’s Rules of Order that a vote on adjournment must be held if a council member calls for it. That request was made at the conclusion of the meeting.

Many had expected that the attorney general opinion would prompt Wilson [online copy corrected] to allow the election issue to be placed on the agenda.  But as he has frequently done in the past, he would not permit the council to change the agenda he’d set for the meeting.

Wilson explained his reasoning during the meeting.

He said he’d done further research on the town’s election laws and determined that Chapin’s now-defunct municipal election commission is the agency that determines special election dates.

He said the state attorney general’s office wasn’t aware of the municipal election commission ordinance when it issued the opinion.

Wilson also commented: “It’s only an opinion.”

The mayor says he plans to call a special meeting in the next few days to determine if Council should reappoint members to that election panel, which hasn’t been in operation in years.

Syrett says Wilson is wrong.

He says the old municipal election commission no longer exists because the town transferred its election authority to the county election commission in 2007.  He says Wilson is simply seeking ways to prolong the deliberations so the vote would have to be held in November.

When residents in attendance during Wednesday’s meeting questioned why the election shouldn’t be held Sept. 30, Wilson stated that the Nov. 4 election date would give voters more time to study the issue and would involve more voter participation.

Council had met with election officials and requested a Sept. 30 date for the vote, but Wilson later announced his decision to request a Nov. 4 election date. To resolve the conflict, the Lexington County Election Commission requested an opinion from the attorney general, which stated the Town Council is the governing body and should have authority to set the election date.

When asked why he wouldn’t allow the Council to put items on the agenda at the Aug. 27 meeting, Wilson said what they were requesting was not in the best interest of Chapin’s growth for the future.

Some in attendance at the meeting denounced the infighting.

“We need to act like Christian people. This is the worse I’ve ever seen in this town,” said Chapin resident Ed Smith.

“What I’ve heard tonight is ugly,” another resident said. “You’re acting like a bunch of kids that can’t get along.”

Voters will have the final say, though it’s still not known exactly when.

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