Editorial: a tale of two contracts
It was a tale of two contracts – the Oct. 3 Clinton City Council meeting.
One of them handled openly and properly. One fumbled badly and approved with the idea of keeping the public in the dark.
Council’s agenda included this item: City Council to consider contract for revenue review services.”
The information packet given to council and the media included a little more than a page of information about the proposed contract. An explanation was also part of the city manager’s power point presentation.
Council voted unanimously to approve the contract.
The agenda also included six items to be discussed in executive session, including “Contractual matter related to professional services for lobbying and consulting services.”
After an hour behind closed doors, council reconvened and Council Member Norman Scarborough made a motion for the city to enter into a contract for professional service for lobbying and consulting services. Council Member Jimmy Young seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
After the meeting adjourned, City Manager Frank Stovall was approached by the two reporters at the meeting and asked about the second contract. He said the contract was for a firm to lobby the South Carolina General Assembly.
Stovall was asked the price of the contract. He replied, “I can’t tell you.” The reporters thought it was a joke. When pressed, he said the contract contains a non-disclosure clause so he can’t say how much the city was going to pay the lobbyists.
That is unacceptable and, most likely, illegal.
Reporters asked for a copy of the contract and were told to submit to FOIA request, which they both did – handwritten on a piece of legal paper.
Reporters then went to Mayor Bob McLean, who was quick to point the finger at Stovall. He said the final cost was to be negotiated by Stovall before the contract is signed.
Stovall released the contract the next afternoon. The payment listed in the contract is $36,000 for one year ($3,000 per month). Since then, both Stovall and McLean have said they want the contract terms shortened, but neither have said anything about reducing the monthly cost.
So, it appears, everyone knew it was going to cost them $3,000 a month. They just weren’t sure both sides would agree as to how many months the contract would last.
Two days after the meeting, McLean told a reporter, “You know more than I know” about the contract. He said he didn’t receive a copy of the contract to keep.
Whether the city needs a lobbying firm to plead the case for more state money is not the issue – although it could be argued the city is paying someone to lobby itself since the city is a governmental subdivision of the state.
The issue is a complete and total lack of transparency and a refusal to understand and admit the contract is a public document.
In the past, the city has set a good example of being open with the public and the press.
Those we elect and those they hire to run our city (and it applies to other government agencies) need to understand and realize if you act as if you’re hiding something, the citizens are going to demand to know what.
Our public officials have to be smarter than this. And we, as citizens, have to demand it.