GEORGETOWN | Board members of the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council late Tuesday night unanimously approved paying lawyer fees immediately without knowing how much money they were spending.
The vote was one of at least nine that came in rapid succession after a three-hour executive session at the agency's Georgetown offices in which not everything discussed was legally allowed under the state's open meetings law.
The session was to have been for a legal issue, a personnel issue and a contractual issue, according to a vote to hold it. Discussion of the lawyer's pay would not have been legal, but discussion of a pending or active lawsuit would have.
Only one of the nine board members who approved the lawyer's pay, Willie Sparkman, said he knew how much the total was, but angrily refused to give the amount when asked and referred the questioner to board Chairman Zacharius Grate. Grate said he didn't know the exact number or have any other specific information about the items that had just been voted on.
"These are a lot of questions," he said, furrows of disapproval creasing his forehead.
He was unmoved to provide answers when it was explained to him that the agency exists because of taxpayer money and that taxpayers have a legal right to know how their money is spent.
"I'm bad with numbers," board member John Battiste said in explaining why he didn't know how much of an expenditure he had just approved for lawyers.
"You know I don't know," said board member Isabelle McKnight, the board's secretary.
New board member Susan Sejda said during a cigarette break she took from the closed session that the board had been discussing, among other things, $60,000 in federal money the agency must spend by Thursday and deciding if it should be applied to overtime pay that agency staff have earned.
Boards are not to vote during executive sessions, nor would a discussion of the federal money spending concern have been allowed under the open meetings law.
The closed session, which in the printed agenda was to have happened at the end of the meeting, was moved to one of the first items on the agenda. Some agency directors, such as those for finance and weatherization, were called into the session and stayed for a period of time before emerging.
Directors reports, which had taken a substantial amount of time in previous board meetings, were quickly settled Tuesday night with a series of "No reports" from the directors after the lengthy closed session.
The 16 remaining items on the agenda were dispensed with in 15 minutes after the session concluded.