By Stan Welch
A joint meeting of the Pelzer and West Pelzer town councils took place last Thursday. The unusual meeting was held to discuss the possibility of the town of West Pelzer expanding its police services to include Pelzer.
Some of the issues to be addressed in relation to the proposed three year contract were the costs of providing the services, the source of the revenues for paying those costs, and a division of the revenues generated by any fines collected. Mayor Sanders, in an earlier conversation with The Journal, stated that the annual cost of providing the police protection will be approximately fifty thousand dollars a year, a cost which will be borne entirely by the town of Pelzer.
The meeting was conducted entirely in executive session, ostensibly because it involved a discussion of contractual matters, one of the permitted uses of an executive session under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act. That executive session exemption was challenged by the The Journal in this case, based on several factors.
The presence of both full councils is an unusual, though not unprecedented event, according to Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association. But when told of the nature of the discussion, he opined that it did not meet the standard for contractual matters. “This sounds to me like it is a policy matter at this point, and as such, the press and the public should be included. Once the two councils have reached an agreement on whether or not the services will be offered, then the individual councils might very well discuss their wishes about the terms in separate executive sessions. But right now, everyone is included, except the press and the public. The public has a right to know what arrangements the two towns are considering entering into.”
In an earlier conversation with The Journal, Mayor Sanders gave his view of the possible agreement, based on existing conditions at the WPPD. The department currently has three full time officers and six part time officers. An additional full time officer would possibly be hired, while Capt. Brewer, who is currently on the staff at WPPD, would be promoted to the role of investigator. Sanders said that the towns will establish a baseline amount of fines routinely collected by WPPD now, and then agree on a split of the additional revenues generated.
Before the meeting began, the Journal spoke privately with both Mayor Sanders and Mayor McGregor to determine whether a formal vote by both Councils had been taken to enter into such an arrangement. Both mayors conceded that no such vote had occurred, though Mayor Blake Sanders pointed out that the West Pelzer Council had authorized him earlier to approach the Pelzer Council about the matter.
Given the absence of a formal vote by both parties, the Journal explained the objections to the meeting being held in executive session, in the absence of an existing contract, and asked to be allowed to put their objections on the record before the executive session began.
Also clouding the issue of receiving advice on a contractual matter was the absence of either of the town’s attorneys.
The courtesy of entering the objections on the record was extended by Mayor Sanders and the Journal reporter was then asked to leave.
Neither Council has met separately since then, so no public actions have been taken on whatever proposal resulted from the meeting.
There have been no discussions about providing police protection by Pelzer Town Council since a work session meeting with Mayor Sanders and Police Chief Mike Clardy in May.