Feuding Chapin Council leaning toward mediation – The State

CHAPIN, SC — Chapin Town Council might resort to professional mediators to help members get along.Three of the five members did not object to controversial Mayor Skip Wilson’s suggestion at Tuesday night’s meeting.”This is an opportunity for the council to show the town residents and the businesses we’re serious” about working together, Wilson said. “It seems that we can’t do this on our own.”Councilwomen Bibi Atkins and Kay Hollis placed conditions on their participation in the as yet unscheduled sessions at Midlands Mediation Center.”I’m willing to go forward as long as you’re willing to follow town ordinances,” Atkins told Wilson.After yet another contentious council meeting, Atkins, Hollis and Councilman Robbie Frick told The State newspaper they are undecided about attending the sessions.The mediation debate was one of several terse exchanges among Atkins, Hollis and the town’s first new mayor in decades.Former mayor Stan Shealy attended his first council meeting since retiring. Shealy was at Town Hall covering the meeting as a reporter for a local online newspaper.One of Tuesday’s disruptions came as former town attorney David Knight used his monthly report on Chapin utilities to complain he hasn’t been paid in five months for his work dealing with utility matters.Knight said he no longer attend will council meetings or answer any questions about his written reports until he is paid $7,500 he said is due him .Wilson repeatedly tried to stop Knight from speaking about the legal bill, but the lawyer persisted.Wilson said later he would not respond to Knight’s complaint. The town will have to turn to using on-call lawyers as it has for the town attorney since Knight retired in December, the mayor said.Wilson and the councilwomen also clashed repeatedly over their attempts to affect items on the agenda and council rules.Wilson – never raising his voice – blocked each attempt.Afterward, Atkins said Wilson does not abide by Roberts Rules of Order but rather by “Skippy rules.”The push for mediation comes after four months of infighting.Wilson won two legal skirmishes affirming his say over what the five-member council considers amid complaints of an imperial style preventing challenges to his decisions.He also has upset the three council members with suspension of veteran town clerk Adrienne Thompson for what he says are financial irregularities but which they say are decisions in furnishing the new Town Hall that she made with their approval.Officials at the State Law Enforcement Division are investigating the mayor’s allegations.Wilson says he is trying to put in place changes authorized when voters elected him Nov. 5 as the first new mayor in the Lexington County town of 1,700 residents in 32 years.Town leaders upset with him say they aren’t against some of his ideas but said he is trying to impose them unilaterally without council review and approval. Staff writer Tim Flach contributed to this story.

Council members ask judge to reconsider Chapin mayor decision – WIS

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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Mayor-Elect Told He Cannot Hire New Worker – WLTX.com

Chapin, SC (WLTX) — Chapin town council held a special called meeting, after an email surfaced saying a woman was offered a job by the Mayor-Elect before he is even sworn into office.

The email, dated Dec. 23, is signed by the current Executive Director of The Greater Chapin Chamber of Commerce, Karen T. Owens.

In the email, she writes “Skip [Wilson] has asked me to serve on his staff as the Director of Communications and Economic Development and I have accepted his offer.” 

The email goes on to list a target date to “wind down with the Chamber” as January 10.
The town’s attorney addressed the issue Monday evening, and said Wilson is not legally able to offer her the job.
“He has no authority to do anything,” Town Attorney David Knight told News19. “He’s just a citizen just like you or me. We don’t have authority anymore than he does, and he has no more authority than we do to hire anybody to do anything. He’s not in a position, even if he were mayor, he needs to go before council and present a job description.”

Wilson is not scheduled to be sworn into office until January 7.

A legal opinion written by Knight says Wilson was attempting to hold a “special meeting” of Town Council ahead of the January 7 date on January 2 at 9 a.m. The meeting was for the “sole purpose of taking the oaths of office,” Knight’s written opinion reads.

Council voted on Monday that he is not allowed to do that either.

Current Mayor Stan Shealy, who has been in office for 32 years, is scheduled to end his term December 31, according to Knight.

Columbia, South Carolina Criminalizes Homelessness In Unanimous Vote – Huffington Post

Updated on Aug. 22, 2013 at 3 p.m. EST

City council members in Columbia, S.C., recently voted unanimously to criminalize homelessness.

Concerned that Columbia has become a “magnet for homeless people,” and that businesses and the area’s safety are suffering as a result, council members agreed on Aug. 14 to give people on the streets the option to either relocate, or get arrested, according to the city’s “Emergency Homeless Response” report.

Cooperative homeless people will be given the option to go to a remote 240-person bed emergency shelter, which will be open from September to March. The shelter will also be used as a drop-off for people recently released from prison and jail, too.

A hotline will be set up for passersby to “report” a homeless person that needs to be removed, additional police will be dispensed to monitor the streets and vans will escort the homeless to the shelter.

While some advocates have decried the decision, council members say it’s a “temporary” solution that will eventually lead to a more sound resolution.

“This is stopgap,” Councilman Cameron Runyan told WISTV. “This is going to open up a window of opportunity for us to come together as a community to develop a long-term response to this problem. This problem has plagued us for a generation and a half at least.”

But even this “temporary fix” presents some unaddressed issues.

For one, there are an estimated 1,621 homeless people living in Columbia and the surrounding area, 25 percent of whom are members of families with children, a figure that could overwhelm the designated shelter.

Advocates are also concerned about the fact that these homeless people will, in essence, be “locked up” upon arrival.

According to ThinkProgress, clients at the shelter will not be allowed to leave the premises without permission and a police officer will stand guard at the road leading to the building.

“[This is the] most comprehensive anti-homeless measure that [I have] ever seen proposed in any city in the last 30 years,” Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing at the National Coalition for the Homeless, told ThinkProgress. “Using one massive shelter on the outskirts to house all a city’s homeless is something that has never worked anywhere in the country.”

Wayne Fields, CEO of the Oliver Gospel Mission in Columbia, told The Huffington Post that a lot of people are “unhappy” about the decision and whether they intended to or not, the council members are giving off an alarming message to the homeless community.

“The impression this gives is that they don’t want homeless people in Columbia at all,” said Fields who was away when the decision was handed down, but said the organization that’s been serving the community for 25 years has gotten a number of calls from concerned donors.

Fields also noted that while such a drastic decision may be directed to homeless people who aren’t open to getting help, it may actually drive away clients who are trying to get their lives back on track and will interfere with agencies, like his, that are making a difference.

But a number of other cities have taken such punitive measures as of late.

Just last month, Tampa Bay, Fla., passed an ordinance, which will allow police to arrest people sleeping on the streets and put them behind bars.

There, many argued that such a measure both punishes the taxpayers and the homelessness.

“It costs roughly $50 a day to incarcerate one homeless person for one day. And during the last homeless count that took place, we had 356 homeless people in jail,” Amanda Mole, editor of the Tampa Epoch, told HuffPost Live. “With those numbers we spent about 6.6 million dollars a year in Hillsborough County alone just on incarcerating the homeless.”

Columbia will likely also face some financial struggles as a result of its decision to criminalize homelessness.

According to the homelessness report, running the shelter 24 hours a day, seven days a week for seven months straight will cost the city $1.7 million. But the emergency plan has so far budgeted only $500,000.

However, some downtown business owners say that it’s time to pour more money into tackling the problem, since homelessness advocates have been “wasting” their resources.

“As small business owners on Main Street we see first hand how the homeless crisis is affecting the city,” Jessica and Joe Kastner, owners of Paradise Ice, said according to the report. “Unfortunately it seems the people who make their living off of caring for the homeless are the ones making all the noise at these meetings. They’ve had 20 years to fix the problem and it has only gotten worse thus ensuring their paychecks stay safe. Please think about the everyday citizens, the revitalization of Columbia and the safety of everyone.”

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