GREENVILLE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – Lawmakers are suing the Greenville County government for what they claim are violations of state open meetings laws and laws which dictate when and how local governments approve budgets.
Plantiffs listed on the suit are Dwight Loftis, a state senator representing Greenville County, and state representatives James Mikell Burns, Patrick Haddon, Adam Morgan, T Alan Morgan and Ashley Trantham. Also listed on the suit are Michelle Shuman and the South Carolina Public Interest Foundation.
The suit alleges the county violated state laws through it’s budget process, which sees the county set and approve budgets every two years, as opposed to having an annual budgeting process.
“The two-year budget is unconstitutional; it violates state law,” said Mike Burns, one of the lawmakers filing the suit. “We need to do things right. We need to it according to county ordinances, according to the rules of council, according to state law, and by all means, our state constitution.”
The suit also claims the county’s governing body violated open meetings laws in June with a supposed secret meeting to convince board members to support its most recent budget proposal.
“At that meeting a poll took place about the pending votes and efforts were made to encourage Councilors to support the Budget. With a quorum present this should have been publicly announced, open to the public, and minutes of that meeting should have been taken,” the suit reads.
7NEWS spoke with Greenville County Councilman Rick Bradley.
“This is my first run in the political office at all, so everything is very much new to me. Reading what I read, anything that we’re doing that doesn’t meet codes or laws for the state, I’ll do all in my ability to make sure that we do,” he said.
Bradley said he’s glad to have an opportunity to fix whatever may be wrong, he just wishes it didn’t have to be a lawsuit.
“I think it’s something we can take as good and move forward and fix the things that need fixing. Whatever needs to be addressed, I feel like our council will address it. If we’re in violation, we’ll fix it,” stated Bradley.
Burns said he and the others who prompted this legal action want to see things done the right way.
“At the end of this, we want to see the 25′ budget gone, we want to see the process gone through transparently, and redo the 24′ budget,” he said. “And we want to see them put out the correct numbers before the vote, so everybody knows what they’re voting on and what they’re talking about.”
Bob Mihalic, governmental affairs coordinator for the county said the county does not comment on active lawsuits.
7NEWS reached out to all Greenville County Council members. Some did not respond, others said they did not have enough information to comment, a few sent comments.
“With this being my first time on Council and only having less than 12 months under my belt, I feel that some of the issues contained within at least what I have heard, would be more accurately expanded on by some of those on Council who were there when the alleged violations took place. I just don’t have enough information to comment on them.
As far as the current budget related issues, I basically stand by the principle that if we are not in compliance with State law, we should immediately take all steps to correct those violations, as well as develop a new protocol to ensure that those mistakes are not made in the future.
I voted against the budget because I am against such a historic high property tax and what it means for people in my District as well as the County. As much as I’m thankful we are having issues addressed that seem to span over a decade, I am not a fan of lawsuits. I hope we don’t have people opposed to a tax increase in Greenville County, but at the same time, are celebrating a lawsuit in which their tax money could still come out the biggest loser.
Any places where Council made improper steps should be immediately addressed and corrected to follow State guidelines. I’m confident we can make that happen!”Benton Blout, Greenville County Councilman.
This is a developing story, we will update it as more information becomes available.
You can read the full lawsuit below: