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‘Frustrated’ Clinton leaders violate FOIA laws with meeting

Published on Page 1, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021 issue of The Laurens County Advertiser.

By Judith Brown

Staff writer

Clinton, S.C.  – Clinton officials were looking for an opportunity to vent their frustrations to local members of the Laurens County Development Board about the recently announced move of the LCDC to downtown office space in Laurens.

In doing so officials held an unannounced meeting of the Clinton Economic Development’s Executive Committee which violated the state’s Freedom of Information Act laws or so-called “Sunshine Laws” for governing bodies.

Typically, the CEDC Executive Committee releases agendas to the media at least 24 hours before meetings, as stipulated by the FOIA.

Clinton Mayor Bob McLean had asked LCDC board member David O’Shields if some from the community who were concerned about the recently announced move could come and talk about their concerns, and O’Shields told LCDC President and CEO Jonathan Coleman that some citizens were coming to “vent some frustrations” about the change and they would be meeting Wednesday afternoon.

O’Shields also said that he’d asked fellow LCDC board member Jimmy Capps, head of the Clinton-Newberry Natural Gas Authority to come as well,  but said he had no idea the group coming to meet at an office within the M.S. Bailey building included  a quorum.

Three members constitutes a quorum of the CEDC Executive Committee, and there were four members of the five-member committee there. They included Will Ferguson, Stan Bryson, Lumus Byrd and McLean. They were joined by Larry Franklin, a former newspaper editor and resident of Clinton, and County Councilman David Tribble.

When a representative from The Advertiser arrived about 4:50 Wednesday afternoon and asked if it was a CEDC meeting, several members said it was not. County Council member David Tribble joked that it was actually a bridge club, then said “this is not a meeting of a governmental body.”

But it was, due to the four CEDC executive committee members present.

O’Shields later said he told those gathered that Coleman would meet with officials and explain some of the reasons for the decision to move to the downtown Laurens office space within The Midtown Building.

Coleman released a statement from the LCDC Friday explaining with bullet points the reasons for the move to downtown Laurens and its impact on Clinton, which he says is nil.

“We are in no way trying to show favoritism to one municipality,” the statement read. “We will showcase the City of Clinton, Fountain Inn and Gray Court just as much as the City of Laurens in our efforts to recruit business industry to our county.”

The move is part of the LCDC’s strategic plan, which includes converting the office building currently shared with the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce into a “landing pad” for industries establishing themselves in the county when needed.

The LCDC gains 800 square feet with the move and leaves more space for the chamber, while providing prospective industry leaders a glimpse at the quality of life in Laurens County, Coleman said.

He also said the LCDC will continue to work with the CEDC and introduce clients to Clinton to give them a feel for the lifestyle in that city.

A called meeting of Clinton City Council for Friday had included an executive session agenda item with a contractural letter regarding LCDC, but that Friday meeting was cancelled.

Editor John Clayton contributed to this story.

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