Less than a month after Greenville County Council voted 8-4 to dissolve the county’s special purpose sewer and fire districts, attorneys for three special purpose districts have filed a lawsuit against the county and each of its individual 2020 and 2021 council members.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the Parker, Taylors and Gannt special purpose districts, argues that council members ignored South Carolina statutes and longstanding case law.
It seeks not only a judgement declaration proclaiming the vote to be unlawful, but also an injunction to stop the dissolution from moving forward — or at the very least, a thorough review of the county’s actions that would allow the special purpose districts to present evidence against dissolution to a judge.
“The hearings, which then Council Chairman Butch Kirven called ‘just a formality,’ were replete with flaws such as not giving proper instructions on how people could take part, faulty technology, and unreasonable time limits,” reads a litigation statement from the special purpose districts.
Commonly known as SPDs, special purpose districts are independent districts with elected board members, which handle wastewater collection and fire services. The vote by County Council to dissolve the SPDs, if upheld, would move all wastewater collection services under the purview of one SPD, MetroConnects, by July 2021.
Three SPDs — Barea, Marietta and Wade Hampton — already voted to dissolve on their own accord even before the final council vote in December, thereby turning over all sewer-collection services to MetroConnects. That self-dissolution came after council members posed an ultimatum in which SPDs would be allowed to continue operating their own fire services on the condition that they dissolved sewer services to MetroConnects beforehand.
Councilman Dan Tripp said in early December that he would only agree to speak with SPD leaders after they had agreed to the county’s plans and dissolved themselves.
“We can’t make an offer or strike an agreement until we have this existing ordinance in place,” Tripp said.
But the three opposing SPDs argued the move was a bad-faith attempt at getting SPDs to hand over their services, a move that their attorneys argue would have only been possible with full SPD approval or a referendum from of the voters.
“This capped off a roughly 18-month series of closed door and backroom meetings, none of which involved opponents of the consolidation, to steal sewer and fire away from voters and to create a new big-government entity with little oversight,” the litigation statement argues. “It silenced the voices of the citizenry.”