Batesburg-Leesville councilmembers question why town attorney directed item be left off meeting agen
Batesburg-Leesville, SC (Paul Kirby) – Batesburg-Leesville town council members Steve Cain and Shirley Ethridge Mitchel took issue with the fact that an agenda item to discuss reviewing the Police Department’s Pursuit Policy was never added to a Monday night council meeting agenda at the advice of several attorneys. It was requested that the review of the policy be added to the work session agenda by Councilman Steve Cain. The police policy came under scrutiny by several of the council members recently after a young man was fleeing a town police officer earlier this month after a traffic stop. That young man stopped and then sped away trying to elude the police. He crashed his car during the pursuit and died as a result of that collision.
According to Town Manager Ted Luckadoo, Town Attorney Chris Spradley and an attorney from the SC Municipal Association advised the town manager not to add the discussion and review of the Pursuit Policy item to the agenda until the SC Highway Patrol finished their investigation into the incident. Luckadoo said the town's attorney sent an e-mail to each council member and Luckadoo tried to contact them each individually to ask if they had seen that e-mail. The attorney's e-mail was advising them to put off that discussion of the policy. He was only able to reach seven of them by phone. One of the seven said he had not seen the e-mail and said he would review it. Luckadoo said there was no conference call so that multiple members of the council were on the phone at the same time. He also said the council never voted on anything, the calls were simply asking each contacted member if they had seen the e-mail. A notification with the agenda minus the policy discussion was distributed to the public before the legally mandated 24-hour deadline.
There is one other point that has been overlooked by Mr. Cain. According to the rules and procedure that Batesburg-Leesville uses to add items to its agendas, a council member can add an item if they move to do so at a previous meeting. That then must be seconded and passed by a majority vote of the council. Cain did move at the last meeting to add the discussion to the agenda, but it was never seconded. Because of this, it was never voted on or added to the agenda. This is all detailed on the town's web-site.
If a quorum of the council meets at any given time as they would in person or by conference call, or if any vote is taken, that would fall under the SC Freedom of Information Act guidelines. The public would have to receive notice 24-hours prior to the meeting. This is normally done via the media and the town’s website or social media pages. The law does not say that the city manager or any other employee cannot talk to each council member by phone individually or in person and ask their opinion on something or ask a simple question regarding the town’s business. The only agenda published before the 24-hour window closed for Monday's meeting did not have the discussion of the pursuit policy on it, according to Mayor Lancer Shull.
Councilman Cain has pointed out that a dash-cam tape of the pursuit was released to the public and openly questioned why the council couldn’t review the policy after that action was taken. Luckadoo once again advised the council that he had not added to the agenda item on the advice of their legal council. Luckadoo said that because the case and investigation were ongoing, the attorney had warned that as the town’s legal representative, any discussion of anything regarding the case would be covered under attorney client privilege.
It is Cain’s position that the council had an illegal meeting even though a quorum of the council never met in person, by telephone, or had an e-mail discussion according to town officials. Luckadoo pointed out several times that no vote was taken, he had only asked if each council member had read the e-mail with the attorney’s advice. Luckadoo even reminded Cain Monday that he had discussed it with him when the two had spoken toward the end of the previous week. Cain still insisted that the town manager had orchestrated an illegal meeting.
Councilwoman Shirley Ethridge Mitchel took even greater issue with Luckadoo saying that he lied when he told her he had attempted to contact her. Mitchel said that Luckadoo only tried to contact the council members he knew would agree with him regarding the matter. Luckadoo said Tuesday by telephone that he left a message for Mitchell and later texted her.
Toward the end of the encounter, Cain told the town’s mayor Lancer Shull, “I don't trust you as far as I can throw you.” He also said that he did not trust the town manager or the town’s long-time attorney Chris Spradley. He constantly claimed that an illegal meeting had been held without notifying the public contrary to what he was being told by Luckadoo. During much of the meeting taped by someone and sent via Facebook to The Ledger, Cain was seen asking Luckadoo questions. When Luckadoo tried to answer, Cain quickly interrupted or began talking over him when the town manager tried to answer. This happened numerous times.
Cain is no stranger to clashes with the town’s government or its police. In a council meeting approximately 4 years ago, he was forcibly removed by the police at one point during a meeting. Cain went into hiding for some time claiming he was scared the town police would kill him. He was also removed from council before for misleading the town and its voters about what district he lived in. This was done after a private investigator was used to prove he didn't live in the district. Batesburg-Leesville's town council is not elected at-large. It is broken into districts and a representative is elected from each district. Cain was also arrested later and spent time in jail for failing to pay his child support. He was then re-elected to the council in the proper district where he resided at some point later.
Cain said that he would expect to place the review on the agenda of their next meeting regardless of the town attorney’s opinion. A third council member said it was her understanding that it would be placed on the regular March 11th meeting’s agenda.
In a response for a comment from Mayor Shull he said, "I welcome any all discussions which have the potential of serving the safety and quality of our citizens and businesses. A discussion on the Police Department’s policy of pursuit would have been hamstrung because of the current investigation by the SC Highway Patrol and our inability to discuss the circumstances revolving around the death of that young man. The death of this young man is tragic. I certainly would not want the death of my son to be used as a soap box to promote a political agenda and I’m sure this family does not either. This discussion will happen in due time. It is also my understanding that in our form of government, council does not set the policy of the Police Department. We can have discussions, we can encourage changes, but there would never be a vote of council to change or set that policy."
In the form of government Batesburg-Leesville uses, the town council doesn't set policy. They hire the town manager and then the person in that position sets policy. In South Carolina, this is called the council manager form of government. This is dictated by state law.