Included in the various email exchanges following last week’s Horry County Council brouhaha was one from council member Dennis Disabato to council Chairman Johnny Gardner in which DiSabato notified Gardner he had instructed staff to prepare a new ordinance that appears to be pointed at one fellow council member and may violate both the US Constitution and South Carolina law.
DiSabato and council member Al Allen were on opposite sides of the issue to discuss county legal fees on last week’s agenda. Allen requested the discussion be placed on the council agenda, DiSabato moved to adjourn the meeting to prevent the discussion from taking place.
In an email to council Chairman Johnny Gardner, DiSabato said that since Gardner had a desire to discuss the use of public funds so transparently, he wanted to place an item on the agenda for the next meeting.
“I would like to discuss the use of public funds and awarding contracts to organizations owned by council members and/or their immediate family. I believe it is important for the public to understand exactly how much of our tax revenue is being spent with Allen Aviation, in particular, for mosquito spraying contracts, as well as how those contracts are awarded,” DiSabato wrote to Gardner in the email.
Had DiSabato stopped there, he would have been fine.
However, DiSabato’s email took it further, “Furthermore, I’d like to take this opportunity to let you know that I have instructed staff to prepare an ordinance to prevent the county from further contracts with companies owned by council members and/or their immediate family. The intent here, Mr. Chairman, is to protect and prevent individuals on council from undue public scrutiny of perceived improprieties stemming from such activities.”
An ordinance such as DiSabato proposes may violate both state law and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The Fourteenth Amendment provides that no state may deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. It mandates that individuals in similar situations (classes) be treated equally by the law.
South Carolina has no law prohibiting public officials from conducting business with the agency they represent. It does have laws prohibiting members from voting on or influencing a governmental decision in which the public official has an economic interest and laws on disclosing the income (economic interest) from such business.
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