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Burns, Jones spar over procedure on MegaSite vote
$1.13 million to be used for engineering, permitting
Sammie Tucker (Web).jpg
Kershaw County Council Vice-Chairman Sammie Tucker Jr. makes a motion to have county staff negotiate an option extension on the Central SC MegaSite in Lugoff and enter into an up to $1.13 million contract with Alliance Consulting Engineers to conduct engineering studies and permitting work on a 100-acre portion of the 1,426-acre site during Tuesday night’s council meeting. - photo by Gee Whetsel

Near the end of its meeting Tuesday, Kershaw County Council voted, 6-1, to have Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter negotiate an extension for an option on the Central SC MegaSite in Lugoff. The vote included approval to enter into an up to $1.13 million contract with Alliance Consulting Engineers for engineering and permitting work on a 100-acre portion of the 1,426-acre site.

Councilman Jimmy Jones cast the lone “no” vote, apparently due to his concerns that the public had not been sufficiently informed about exactly what council planned to discuss and vote on regarding the MegaSite.

The agenda only listed the item as “Discussion/Approval of Engineering and Permitting for Central SC MegaSite.” Those on hand for, or watching via the county’s livestream of, an earlier portion of the meeting saw Jones question why no supporting information was attached to the agenda for councilmen or provided to the public.

Jones made a motion, ultimately seconded by Councilman Al Bozard, to remove approval from the MegaSite agenda item.

“My motion is that no expenditure or engineering and permitting … be considered for approval unless the actual proposal and option is in the agenda packet and listed for consideration on the agenda,” Jones said.

Chairman Julian Burns asked Jones if there was an exigent (emergency) circumstance to amend the agenda. Burns asked his question before anyone seconded Jones’ motion, leading Jones to consult with County Attorney Ken DuBose about whether Burns could do that.

“We have no disclosure to the public; we have nothing in our agenda packet. What are we going to go and vote on?” Jones said.

Burns insisted that Jones’ motion had to meet the two tests of whether or not an exigent circumstance existed and, if so, that it be passed by a two-thirds vote.

“Mr. Chairman, we have an item on the agenda where this no disclosure, no information,” Jones insisted. “This council could be spending $1 million to $1.2 million on this issue and it hasn’t been disclosed to the public, and I’m a bit appalled by that to be honest with you.”

Burns then explained that discussion of the MegaSite dealt with contractual matters that would be addressed in the executive session later in the meeting -- which he said he told Jones ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. Jones acknowledged that, but said both council and the public deserved to have information on what they were going to vote on.

Saying that there was “no attempt to hide anything,” Burns then asked for a second, which came from Bozard. As part of what was supposed to be a resulting discussion, Jones began to talk about how he has always been in favor of an option on the MegaSite.

Burns immediately interrupted him, apparently to consult with DuBose.

“And here’s the reason, everybody, and I’m going to be very firm about this: We have a contractual issue -- two contractual issues -- that we need to go into executive session on, on this topic, and any discussion of that needs to be guided by our attorney so as not to compromise what is very sensitive,” Burns said. “I assure you, everything will be known, but … we need to get this information before us now.”

DuBose then advised Burns that he could call for a vote on Jones’ motion, which the chairman did, no longer giving Jones an opportunity to speak.

“That’s censorship, Mr. Chairman,” Jones objected, as Burns proceeded with the vote.

No one, not even Jones, voted in favor of his motion. At a request from Jones, DuBose then explained that the councilman could bring up his motion again when it came time to actually vote on the MegaSite issue following the executive session. Burns agreed.

However, after some further back and forth between Jones and Burns -- during which Jones claimed he would not have violated executive privilege if he had been allowed to present his case -- Burns asked anyone who opposed Jones’ motion to raise their hand. Everyone except Jones did so.

The S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows items to be added to an agenda during a meeting, but only by a two-thirds vote. However, if the item being considered for addition to the agenda is one where a final vote is being taken or where there has not and will not be an opportunity for public comment, a finding of an emergency, or “exigent,” circumstance must be made prior to that two-thirds vote.

The S.C. FOIA’s “exigent circumstance” clause says nothing of removing something from an agenda.

When the MegaSite item came up later in the meeting, County Administrator Vic Carpenter provided council with informational highlights about the site, located near the intersection of I-20 and U.S. 1 in Lugoff. In the fall of 2015, council approved a $17 million bond for projects to enhance economic development in the county.

“To date, approximately $3.5 million has been spent on the projects,” Carpenter said, “resulting in the clearing of land at Heritage Pointe Industrial Park and Governor’s Hill Industrial Park, completion of the Heritage Pointe spec building and the Steeplechase Road Extension”

In addition, Carpenter said studies have been completed on the Black River Road expansion project, and engineering and permitting is under way on the Governor’s Hill Industrial Park entrance and interior road.

In January, Kershaw County, along with the SC Power Team, Fairfield Electric and the Committee of 100, sponsored an economic development summit where the county was advised to “aggressively move forward on the marketability of the Central SC MegaSite,” Carpenter said.

“This advice paralleled advice provided to us by the S.C. Department of Commerce when asked what steps we should be taking in order to build and maintain a competitive advantage for the county in this area,” he said.

Carpenter said those at the summit urged the county to complete all possible engineering studies and obtain all necessary permits on the 100-acre tract in the northern area of the MegaSite, the section he said is most frequently considered by industrial prospects.

“These studies, good for five years, would be useable by any industrial prospect and would advance the timeline required to build a large facility by many months,” he said. “In an environment where industries seek to be producing in the shortest amount of time possible, saving up to six months on the process would provide us with a significant advantage over anyone that had not already taken those steps. And that’s where we are tonight. We’ve recommended we proceed with the engineering and permitting necessary to put us at the point of being able to complete a 100-acre slab.”

Following Carpenter’s report, Burns called for a vote to enter an executive session. Upon returning to open session, Council Vice-Chairman Sammie Tucker Jr. made the following motion:

“Upon receipt of a signed option extension for the Central South Carolina MegaSite in question, we authorize the staff to engage with Alliance Consulting Engineers to accomplish all engineering studies and permitting processes, as have been presented to council tonight, for the sum not to exceed $1.13 million, with the net county portion not to exceed $800,000.”

Tucker noted the difference -- approximately $330,000 -- is coming from Duke Energy, Fairfield Electric Cooperative and the state of South Carolina.

“I think this is a needed project moving forward so we can stay in the game with our MegaSite,” Tucker said, “and create something meaningful and worthy of our citizens for future employment.”

Burns then called for the vote, leading Jones to be the lone opposition, saying that while he is favor of an option for the MegaSite, he could not support Tucker’s motion because of the “lack of transparency.”

Shipping container hearing

At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, council held a public hearing on the so-called “shipping container ordinance.” Only three people spoke during the 15-minute hearing -- two opposed to the county placing any restrictions on shipping containers on private property, and one citizen who said she’d like to see the county keep some language in the ordinance that would prevent the containers from becoming eyesores.

Council will take up third and final reading of the ordinance, which is actually an amendment of an existing ordinance, at its March 12 meeting. Council voted on Feb. 12 -- on a motion from Tucker and Jones -- to remove any reference to shipping containers from the ordinance. The amendment was originally set to add shipping containers to the county’s accessory structures regulations, including the addition of an entire section detailing how shipping containers would have to be maintained as accessory structures.

In other business, council:

• passed a proclamation, introduced by Councilman Tucker, honoring Ella Bell Hunter Boykin of Rembert on her 90th birthday;

• passed a resolution supporting the Guard and Reserves, including those county employees who contribute to the community by serving in those forces;

• reappointed Richard “Chip” Galloway to the accommodations tax advisory committee, and appointed Marjorie Huntington to the county’s library board;

• recognized Clerk of Council Merri Seigler for her election as secretary of the South Carolina Clerks of Council Association for 2019-20 at the organization’s annual conference held Feb. 2; and

• recognized the Kershaw County Clean Community Commission as a “great example of a public/private partnership that is meeting a great need in our community,” Chairman Burns said. “Let’s take pride in our great county.”

(Editor Martin L. Cahn contributed to this story.)