Waccamaw EOC clocks less-than-usual 90 minutes in closed session

GEORGETOWN | The board of the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council met in executive session for just 1 1/2 hours at its meeting Monday night, its shortest time behind closed doors in months.

The board also held more of its business in the one-hour public portion than it has in months and generated more discussion in the open than has been the case recently.

The norm since the middle of last year at least is for closed sessions lasting a minimum of two hours and open meeting business taking just minutes.

The board, thought. did not follow the process set down in state law for entering the closed session, the same incorrect procedure it has used for months. They decided to conduct the session anyway after having been told of the error and that it could make the entire closed session illegal.

During the open discussion Monday night, board members showed they are concerned about waiting lists for utility assistance and why people they know about are not getting service, but saved most of their words bickering over the process of seating a new board member.

Board members Isabelle McKnight of Georgetown County and John Battiste of Williamsburg County wanted an explanation of why newly-elected member Harold Phillips of Horry County wasn't seated until after the closed session. They said that other new board members were seated at the beginning of the meeting and were critical that board chairman Zacharius Grate chose to wait on Phillips.

Board member Susan Sejda, among those seated in recent months, said that she was sworn in at the end of the first meeting she attended, and that she and another new board member were allowed to sit in on a closed session before they took their oaths of office. That closed door meeting lasted three hours.

Phillips was not invited to Monday's closed session and sat in a hallway with others while it took place.

Battiste said he objected to Phillips' election because he still feels that former board member Abdullah Mustafa was properly reelected to the board seat Phillips took and should have been seated.

Mustafa, who was found to have been improperly elected to the board in 2009, was forced after a 2010 state audit of the board to face reelection. He won that vote, but the board refused to seat him. Phillips' election was the result of that refusal.

Mustafa was aggressively critical of EOC staff and other board members during his tenure on the board.

Battiste, while saying he had nothing against Phillips, called the fact that there was an election "bogus," and was the only board member to vote against him being seated after the closed session.

Phillips, a resident of Bucksport, is the former chairman of the board of the Horry County Solid Waste Authority.

Contact Steve Jones at 444-1765.