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South Carolina will shut down the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council

The state of South Carolina will shut down the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council at 5 p.m. today if the agency's six remaining board members don't resign.

The board has been at odds with the state Office of Economic Opportunity since a state audit found improper election of some board members, board member improprieties and interference by board members in the day-to-day operations of the agency. Three of the six remaining board members are among those the state said were not properly elected.

If the agency is shut down, it will cause an immediate halt to payments that went to low-income residents of Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties for such things as an employment and housing program, a general emergency assistance program, a youth employment training skills program, weatherization assistance and a summer food program. It will also mean that at least 60 of the agency's employees will be out of a job, at least temporarily.

Board members on Tuesday directed Beth Fryar, the agency's executive director, to see if a bank will loan the agency enough money to cover its bills. Employees will be temporarily laid off if a bank loan cannot be obtained.

The agency serves thousands of residents in the three counties with a budget of about $15 million of federal money that is passed through the state office.

None of the six board members resigned Tuesday.

"What is it that we did wrong?" asked board member Isabelle McKnight, a teacher in Georgetown County. "That has never been stipulated. All we've got is allegations."

Board members at first refused to turn over e-mails the state had demanded and to meet with state Office of Economic Opportunity personnel for interviews that were part of the state's investigation. Board members also did not show up at a training session that had been scheduled for them Saturday.

Regardless of who is right or wrong, some of the more than 20 people who showed up at the meeting Tuesday night think the board should step down.

"I feel if they will just step down and do the right thing, the people would see that and probably vote them back in," said Jason Collins of Horry County, whose wife works for the agency.

The state reportedly wants to reconstitute the board, hence the reason for demanding resignations from the remaining board members. At one time, the agency had 15 board members, but nine of them have already resigned. The remaining three board members whose elections are not being challenged by the state constitute a quorum, according to the S.C. Press Association, so Tuesday night's meeting was legal.

Board members also met in an executive session on Tuesday to discuss legal matters.

That executive session also was legal, according to the association, assuming board members had a letter from a lawyer or were planning a conference call with one. Board members did not produce an attorney's letter when asked for it.

"This shouldn't be a power struggle," said agency employee Ellis Chestnut of Little River as he waited outside the agency with others during the executive session. "They should do the right thing."

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