Waccamaw EOC board bucks law, deletes minutes of meeting

A vote made in a closed-door session and a decision to delete information from the minutes of a previous meeting brought new criticism Wednesday for the board of the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council.

The board voted Tuesday night to delete references to some board actions from the official minutes of a previous meeting.

Board member Eddie Woods, the only one to vote against making the changes, said it is "mind-boggling" to delete parts of the minutes that detailed discussion and votes concerning the search for an executive director of the agency and reconsidering a refusal to seat a former board member.

"It looks like flimflam," Woods, a Williamsburg County councilman, said after the meeting adjourned.

Bill Rogers, executive director of the S.C. Press Association, agreed.

"It's unheard of," he said of changing minutes so they are no longer true, "and it casts doubt on any minutes of the board. What are they doing?"

Some board members also tried unsuccessfully to remove Woods from the board Tuesday night. The discussion about his removal, which was listed as an executive session agenda item without naming him, and the vote not to do so was done behind closed doors.

The vote was a violation of the state's open meetings law, which states that all votes of public governing bodies must happen in open sessions.

EOC board member Jerry Harper, the board's secretary, said Waccamaw's secret ballot in the executive session was OK because it was done according to the procedure in the board's bylaws for removing a board member.

Rogers said that reasoning is nonsense.

"The board's bylaws can't supersede state law," he said.

Harper announced in open session that the vote to unseat Woods failed, but he didn't say how many voted for or against the motion.

Ken McManus, the new director of the state Office of Economic Opportunity that oversees most EOC programs, said he hadn't seen reports on the board's actions Tuesday night and couldn't comment on them.

McManus was at the EOC offices in Conway Wednesday as part of a fiscal audit his office is conducting of the agency. He said he expects his staff to return to Conway in the near future for a board audit as a step in possibly removing the "at-risk" status the state has placed on the agency.

The warning status was issued last year when former OEO director Louise Cooper did not feel confident that board members would handle millions of dollars in federal grants as they should.

Lawyers representing the agency have been lobbying the state for a change in the status, perhaps so it can get a loan to complete the funding of a new Head Start center in the Choppee community of Georgetown County.

The board recently approved a contract to build the approximately $1 million facility, but only has about half of the money to do so.

The agency has applied for a loan for the other half, and when asked about it, EOC board chairman Zacharius Grate will say only that the application is still being processed.

The at-risk status, though, could hamper the agency in securing that loan.

Bill Benson, a loan officer for Conway National Bank, said such sanctions could send a warning signal about any nonprofit wanting a bank loan.

Speaking generally, he said, "If [a nonprofit agency] has regulatory issues, that could be problematic."

Grate said at the conclusion of Tuesday night's meeting that he wouldn't comment on deleting actions from the minutes of a previous meeting because he was not present at the meeting. He referred questions to first vice chairman David Eagleton, who chaired the earlier meeting in Grate's absence.

Eagleton left Tuesday's meeting immediately after it adjourned and wasn't available to answer questions. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.