By Paul Gable
Several developments over the last 48 hours have ‘stirred the pot’ regarding deliberations of the Special Committee on Coast RTA formed recently by Horry County Council chairman Mark Lazarus.
The committee, chaired by council member Marion Foxworth, held its first meeting March 17, 2014 with a second meeting scheduled for April 7, 2014.
According to stipulations of fact adopted by committee members at the first meeting, the committee has no oversight of Coast RTA or its management and is limiting its scope to attempting to make a determination of what went wrong with two projects cancelled by SCDOT – a bus sign and shelter project that began in 2007 and a study for an intermodal transportation center begun in 2013.
A report of findings on these two projects is due back to the county by the end of May 2014 and may be used in consideration of funding by the county to Coast RTA in upcoming fiscal years.
While the county does not have oversight over Coast RTA, it does have a responsibility to make sure the tax dollars it provides the agency are spent in a fashion that benefits county citizens.
According to information provided to the Coast RTA board at its regular March 26, 2014 meeting, SCDOT notified the agency that repayment for the terminated sign/shelter project, in the amount of $324,000, must be made by Coast RTA to SCDOT by the end of FY 2014-15 (June 30, 2015). However, Coast RTA has until April 18, 2014 to make alternative payment arrangements with SCDOT.
Details regarding the cancelled projects were provided to Horry County Council by Doug Frate, SCDOT Deputy Secretary for Intermodal and Freight, during an executive session held during council’s February 6, 2014 regular meeting. Frate’s briefing was a consideration in the establishment of the special committee.
A March 24, 2014 letter from Coast RTA Staff Attorney Barbara Blain-Olds to SCDOT Acting Secretary Christy Hall questioned the legality of the county council executive session.
“The closed session was arguably in violation of the SC Freedom of Information Act. Lacking required oversight of this RTA, the county council has no legal right to convene secretly to discuss the entity or its management,” Blain-Olds wrote.
Blain-Olds went on to say, “Although no Coast RTA staff nor board members were present, media reports indicate the purpose of the meeting as a discussion of the Coast RTA Shelter Program and concerns about the management of Coast RTA. As a consequence of that meeting, the Horry County Council has formed a committee to review management practices at Coast RTA to determine whether to continue local funding to us for public transportation.”
The second statement is not entirely accurate as Horry County council member Gary Loftus serves as a member of the Coast RTA board and was present at the executive session. Blaine-Olds went on to request a meeting between SCDOT and Coast RTA to discuss Frate’s concerns and future dialogue he may have planned with Horry County Council.
Frate is scheduled to make a presentation to the special committee at the April 7th meeting.
Finally, in a March 25, 2014 email, Coast RTA general manager Myers Rollins notified Coast RTA board chairman Bernie Silverman that he (Rollins) intends to hire an investigator to find out who leaked details of Rollins’ proposed contract renewal to local media.
“I have no doubt that the Leakers motivation was to prevent us from reaching agreement on a new employment contract. However, even the SC Freedom of Information Act supports the proposition that ongoing contract negotiations need to be exempt from FOIA and public scrutiny,” Rollins wrote.
Actually, the state’s Freedom of Information Act, specifically Section 30-4-70, states that a public body “may” hold discussions of contractual arrangements private, not that it must.
Rollins referred to the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce hiring an investigator in 2010 to determine the identity of an anonymous blogger.
Reports at the time show the chamber hired an investigator to determine the identity of one “Elmer Fudd” who was posting comments on a local media website. The chamber tried to determine the identity in order to sue the individual for making alleged defamatory comments. The identity of “Elmer Fudd” was never established definitively.
Details of a proposed employment contract, which must be publicly disclosed after it is completed, don’t seem to rise to the standard of the chamber investigation.
These new developments will undoubtedly find themselves in the next deliberations of the special committee.