County leader urges end to Chapin feud

tflach@thestate.comMarch 4, 2014 

Skip Wilson

— Chapin leaders need to end infighting that is giving the community a “black eye,” Lexington County Council chairman Johnny Jeffcoat said Wednesday.

“It’s time for them to settle their differences,” he said. “Taking shots at each other is not the way to do it.”

Jeffcoat, whose district includes Chapin, emphasized he is not taking sides in disputes between new Mayor Skip Wilson and some Town Council members.

“They need to find a way to settle it without lawsuits and bickering in public,” he said.

His appeal came after three council members launched a legal challenge to some Wilson decisions following weeks of disagreements.

Three council members contend Wilson improperly hired a top aide without their approval and won’t let them bring up comments and questions about his actions at council meetings.

It’s the latest skirmish in a power struggle over Wilson’s determination to make changes in Town Hall operations that he has said are warranted by his election Nov. 5.

But council members Bibi Atkins, Robbie Frick and Kay Hollis say Wilson is acting unilaterally instead of in consultation with other town leaders as required. Another council member, Gregg White, is a Wilson ally.

Wilson declined comment Tuesday on their allegations.

The legal challenge by the three council members – pending in Lexington County Circuit Court – seeks to:

• Tell Wilson he doesn’t control council agendas exclusively and must include items requested by council members.

• Settle whether Wilson could hire former Chapin Chamber of Commerce executive Karen Owens as town communications and economic development director without council approval. The post pays $45,000 per year, other officials said.

• Force Wilson to pay town utilities lawyer David Knight, something council members say the mayor refuses to do despite their approval of his appointment at a monthly fee of $1,500.

The legal challenge seems the only way to settle a dispute with Wilson that is stirring acrimony in the northern Lexington County community of 1,500 residents, Frick said.

Wilson insists he has “complete control” over what council members consider, with items from other town leaders only requests he is free to accept or ignore, the challenge from Atkins, Frick and Hollis says.

Wilson hired Owens Jan. 26 and adjusted the town spending plan for her salary without consent from other town leaders, it continues. Her hiring should be declared “void and unenforceable,” the challenge says.

Meanwhile, it continues, Owens is being paid while Wilson refuses to honor an employment agreement with Knight, formerly the town attorney.

That refusal follows a disagreement between the pair over Wilson’s start date as mayor and whether he could hire Owens alone.

Wilson wants a new lawyer but has not been able to find one acceptable to council members.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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