Shelton questions motion’s legality

COUNTY — SDPC board member Jim Shelton is questioning the legality of a vote taken during the called and rescheduled board of trustees meeting held last Wednesday, July 25.
During the administrative reports section of the meeting, board chair Alex Saitta made the following motion, following superintendent Dr. Kelly Pew’s report on the $13 million revenue accrual from the building program investment earnings.
“My motion is going to be this: As soon as legally and contractually possible, all the unused building program balance above and beyond the construction budget of $374.3 million will be used for early retirement of bond principle,” said Saitta. “Give that money back to the taxpayers and pay down debt at the earliest time contractually. Right now that’s two years. That’s my motion tonight.”
According to Shelton, the motion did not follow Robert’s Rules of Order, because the agenda was not amended to reflect an action taken on an administrative report and the motion was not made during the period for new business.
Board trustee Ben Trotter, who is well known for being highly knowledgeable when it comes to Robert’s Rules, said that while the motion should have been made during the period of new business under the action items section of the agenda, if Robert’s Rules weren’t followed, this is not the first time.
“We have done that on more than one occasion,” said Trotter. “We’ve voted on things that were not in the period of new business. Was it totally legal? I’m not going to make that call.”
“Motions are made, votes are called for and actions are taken by the board throughout the meeting for items on the agenda. For example, we voted to hire teachers coming out of executive session. We voted to approve minutes,” said Saitta. “Specifically, what principles were violated? Robert’s Rules says items are put on an agenda and voted on. That is what the board did.”
Shelton, however, does not see it this way.
Beyond not following Robert’s Rules of Order, the law to which Shelton is referring to is the South Carolina General Assembly Bill S-0261 passed in 2007, which states that “any measure by the Pickens County School Board of Trustees for providing for the annual operating budget, a supplemental budget or appropriation that exceeds one half of one percent of the annual operating budget, or results in the district incurring debt, must receive three readings on separate days.
“The first reading may be by title or description only. The second and third reading must be approved by a majority of the board members to constitute a reading, and third reading must not be conducted prior to one week following the date of second reading.”
Shelton maintains that Saitta’s motion and the subsequent vote by the board directly violate Senate Bill 261.
“This law’s purpose is to force three readings on significant amounts of new spending or incurring of debt that occurs in annual budgets, a supplemental budget or an appropriation (more spending) or the incurring of debt,” said Saitta. “This was not part of the budget or a budget amendment. Giving a surplus back to the taxpayers is not an appropriation or spending, nor is it incurring debt.”
Shelton disagrees with Saitta’s reading and explanation of the law. As defined, an appropriation is a sum of money set apart for a specific purpose, especially by a legislature, or something appropriated, especially public funds set aside for a specific purpose.
“It is an appropriation because the board has to vote to take action to do anything with the $13 million in revenue,” said Shelton. “That’s how the law reads. Mr. Saitta should know this because he helped write it.”
Trotter suggested that if anyone wants to talk about the violation of S.C. State Law, what should be looked at is the fact that it has just been brought to the attention of the board and the public that there are schools requiring roof repairs.
“State law says that the school district will keep all of their buildings in good operating condition. Why is this just coming up now? How did the other schools get into such bad shape that we had to build brand new schools?” asked Trotter. “There are a lot of things that make no sense.”
“There was no time to evaluate the needs out there,” Shelton said. “What surprises me is that there are board members who have stalled in the past wanting more information before they made hasty decisions.
“This is no different than the Greenville Plan, another ill-conceived plan without public input. Regardless of anyone’s position, these are matters which should go through an investigative decision-making process, to best determine how to appropriate the funds,” said Shelton. “It may be that a tax rebate is the best decision, and if so I will support that. But making knee jerk decisions often gets us in trouble.
“It’s decisions like this that got us the Greenville Plan in the first place. Had there been rational discussion and honest assessments in the past, the Greenville Plan never would have occurred. Votes like this set up the county for Greenville Plan II. No forward thinking, no forward planning. Just score political points. ”
Trotter questions why anyone would be against giving the taxpayers back their money.
“There is a lot of tension on the board where there ought not to be,” Trotter said. “If there are problems in the ranks, why not come to the board directly instead of going to the paper? It makes the one person look like a god and makes the rest of us look like dumb butts.”
The good news, as Trotter sees it, is that the board doesn’t make laws, they create policies. And policies can be changed at any time.
“This is evident in the 50 or so policy changes made in the last year,” said Shelton. “None of which were made to improve education.”