Fight at County Square: A tumultuous County Council strips two members of chairmanships

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Nine members of Greenville County Council have moved to marginalize two of their council colleagues amid ongoing conflict related to two new fees and a lawsuit brought against the council by three of its own members.

Council Chairman Butch Kirven, citing his powers as chairman, stripped councilmen Willis Meadows and Joe Dill of their respective chairmanships. Meadows previously headed the Finance Committee and Joe Dill the Planning and Development Committee.

Meadows and Dill are among three council members who filed a lawsuit against Greenville County and Greenville County Council over a recent vote involving the imposition of fees. Councilman Mike Barnes is also a plaintiff in the pending lawsuit, but he did not have any committee chairmanship to lose. 

Kirven said he acted with the blessing of eight other council members. They are Xanthene Norris, Sid Cates, Rick Roberts, Bob Taylor, Liz Seman, Ennis Fant, Lynn Ballard, and Fred Payne.

The unusual move was expected after Kirven and his eight allies on council voted July 18 to give him power to determine the Finance chairman, a power he already had in regards to council’s other standing committees.

In a memo announcing the changes, Kirven said council had become “infected by discord and dissension.”

“The source of the problem is the failure of some council members to work with others constructively and in good faith, resulting in loss of trust and faith among colleagues,” Kirven wrote.

In an interview with The Journal, Kirven said some members of council have been “grandstanding” and “wasting time” in addition to suing other members of council.

For example, he said, they have declined to object to particular legislation as it moved through the lengthy legislative process only to start raising questions and asking for more time when the rest of council was ready to vote.

Stripping Meadows and Dill of their chairmanships, changes the dynamic, Kirven said.

“It’s about the only thing council has available that it can do within its power and authority,” he said.

Kirven also said, “With nine council members working together, the council can accomplish everything it needs to accomplish.”

The move, however, only seemed to exacerbate the bitter division that has emerged between nine members of council and the other three.

Dill is threatening to file another lawsuit in response.

He said Kirven has authority to restructure committees only during council’s first meeting in January following a general election, with the only exception being excessive absenteeism on the part of a council member.

Dill said he may have no choice but to do what he, Meadows, and Barnes did earlier this year — seek the attorney’s general opinion and file a lawsuit if that opinion is not followed.

“You can’t just keep on breaking the rules and nobody say anything,” Dill said. “Just not the way it works.”

Dill also said any claim that he is not willing to work cooperatively with other council members is “a lie. It’s not true.”

Kirven, however, cited in his memo specific language of council rules as his authority for restructuring the committees.

According to Kirven’s memo, council rules allow him to “change committee membership as merited” during “the course of the two-year term.”

Contacted by The Journal, Ballard and Payne declined to discuss the matter.

“It’s a very awkward situation,” Payne said. “I believe it’s inappropriate for any of us to speak out on this except the chairman.”

Ballard said in an email that he was referring news media inquiries about the situation to the county’s legal department.

In suing Greenville County and Greenville County Council, Meadows, Dill, Barnes, and other plaintiffs claimed that council, in imposing the fees, failed to follow a longstanding rule requiring a “supermajority” of nine votes to raise taxes or fees.

Seven council members voted to repeal the supermajority rule in April before council gave final approval for the new fees through separate votes in June.

Under the committee restructuring, Taylor is the new chairman of the Finance Committee and Ballard leader of the Planning and Development Committee.

The Finance Committee’s jurisdiction includes taxes, the budget, and property tax breaks for economic development projects.

The jurisdiction of the Planning and Development Committee includes land use and transportation planning.

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