The registered agent for new schools builder FirstFloor Energy Positive says he was given legal advice by a school board attorney, but records show that taxpayers footed the bill for the conversations.
Billing records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show that board attorney Keith Powell on four different occasions talked to FirstFloor Energy Positive registered agent Brenton Jeffcoat, and billed Horry County Schools for it.
A registered agent often signs on with a company in order to act as a point of contact for legal transactions. Jeffcoat said he became the registered agent for FirstFloor while helping CEO Robbie Ferris with a previous school construction project, and said he was not paid by school board attorneys nor Ferris. He said he had no attorney-client relationship with Ferris.
The conversations happened while school board attorneys were developing bid solicitation documents that laid out the requirements for Horry County School’s new energy-positive schools.
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Horry County is one of the school districts that is directly subject to the state procurement code. So what I was trying to do is to help Robbie understand how the state procurement code worked in that context.
Brenton Jeffcoat, FirstFloor Energy Positive registered agent
During the development of solicitation documents, potential bidders “should not be” in contact with entities that are developing the solicitation documents, according to Horry County Schools procurement specialist Ara Heinz. The development process started after the board’s vote for the new schools Nov. 10, 2014, she said.
Heinz said bidders could be used a source of information prior to the development of the solicitation documents.
Jeffcoat said he was only talking to Powell to gain a better understanding of South Carolina procurement law as a favor to Ferris, but that Ferris did not ask him to specifically talk to Powell. Ferris said in an email he was unaware of the details of the conversations.
“I was asked to help understand the procurement laws in South Carolina, and the procurement code in South Carolina is state-wide,” Jeffcoat said. “In any event, Horry County is one of the school districts that is directly subject to the state procurement code. So what I was trying to do is to help Robbie understand how the state procurement code worked in that context.”
Jeffcoat said that he often calls Powell because of Powell’s “encyclopedic grasp” of the South Carolina procurement code.
Records show Powell had a meeting with Jeffcoat on Dec. 4, 2014. Powell had three other conversations with Jeffcoat on Dec. 9, Dec. 10 and Dec. 12.
The billing records containing the conversations with Jeffcoat totaled 19 hours at a cost of $3,800. But conversations with Jeffcoat were included along with other billable activities in each entry, so there is no record for exactly how much the conversations alone cost taxpayers.
Jeffcoat said he didn’t keep records of his talks with Powell but said he generally tries to keep conversations brief, at around 10 minutes long.
Powell did not respond to requests for comment, despite multiple attempts to contact him.