Four special purpose districts have filed a lawsuit against Greenville County and Greenville County Council in an attempt to block any move toward sewer district consolidation and delay a public hearing on the matter scheduled for later this month.
The lawsuit, filed in tandem by the Parker, Marietta, Taylors and Gantt special purpose districts, argues that the county would be usurping the statutory authority of the districts, specifically when it comes to the county’s proposed intent to consider dissolving the special purpose districts and transferring their assets without a meeting of the General Assembly or a referendum.
The county “has no authority to take this action,” the lawsuit argues.
The county introduced the proposal at a Nov. 3 council meeting. It would bring the county’s independent sewage collection agencies together by July 1, 2021.
What’s more, the lawsuit claims that County Council’s public meetings on the matter, which are held via Zoom and are therefore inaccessible to those without ready access to a computer and broadband connection, do not meet the standard required by state law.
“Even if [the county and County Council] had the authority to dissolve the Special Purpose Districts, they are required by statute to hold a public hearing that provides a full opportunity for opponents to participate and be heard,” the lawsuit argues.
The lawsuit also calls into question the council’s sincerity with regard to public hearings, noting that County Council Chairman Butch Kirven had called the public hearings “just a formality” during the council meeting on Nov. 3.
The plan proposed by the county, over which the lawsuit was filed, offers the most substantive step yet toward bringing the county’s independent sewage collection agencies together by July 1, 2021. Proposed at the council’s meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 3, the plan has already received broad support among the development community, the industrial community and the environmental community.
But the leaders of the independent sewage collection agencies, which will be most directly impacted by the change, have expressed a decidedly less optimistic view of the proposal.
Sarah Franco, board member with the Parker Sewer and Fire special purpose district, said the very schedule of meetings by which County Council aims to address the sewer consolidation is evidence of what she called the “underhanded, backroom way” the topic has been dealt with. She pointed to the ordinance being first introduced on Nov. 3, election night, and the later meeting being held right before Thanksgiving as evidence of an attempt to get the ordinance passed without full public response.
“I think it was very underhanded. It’s like they were doing it to hide from the public, in my opinion,” Franco said. “I mean why else would you hold a meeting on such an important topic on the day of the biggest election in my life? If they have a good answer, I’m willing to accept it, but so far I haven’t heard a logical answer to that.”
“All they’ve done is set a date for a public hearing on the matter,” Kirven said. “We could do a lot better talking among the parties than in court, so I think the lawsuit is a bit unfortunate and not constructive.”
Kirven said any impending meeting would not be a meeting during which any decisive vote is cast one way or another.