JENKINSVILLE — At the Jenkinsville Water Company’s annual meeting in January, water company member Billy Hendrix asked questions about the decision that JWC made to not join the preliminary discussions for forming a regional water authority.
Hendrix said he was not sure if that choice was made by an individual, by individuals or by the entire board. In response to Hendrix questions, board member Bertha Goins said the choice was made by the entire board.
When pushed about the matter being put to a vote and when asked about whether he had said that Jenkinsville was going to build its own water plant, JWC President Gregory Ginyard claimed to have been misheard or misquoted. The miscommunication led to discussion at that meeting.
One reason Hendrix had reason to question the conduct of the company can be found in company meeting minutes. What is telling is not the content of the minutes, but rather what is missing: There are no votes recorded in the minutes.
Ginyard said a vote was taken by the board to determine if the board wanted to cooperate with a regional water authority or remain separate from the authority.When contacted for this story, he said he could not recall the exact meeting at which a vote was taken.
Since the votes have not been recorded, a member or resident could have the kind of concern that Hendrix mentioned at the meeting. The company says it has tried to become more transparent since a State Law Enforcement investigation was conducted after allegations that money was mishandled by employees.
The investigation did not uncover findings that resulted in criminal charges being filed.
According to the Freedom of Information Act 30-4-90 concerning minutes of meetings and public bodies, all public bodies are required to keep minutes of their meetings. Content includes but is not limited to, the time and date of the meeting; the members of the public body recorded as present or absent, any other information that any member of the public body requests be included or reflected in the minutes. Minutes also may contain, at the request of any member, a record by individual member of any votes taken.
Bill Rogers with the S.C. Press Association said the law does speak to the record keeping issue with JWC.
Rogers said that according to the Freedom of Information Act “the substance of all matters proposed, discussed or decided” must be recorded in minutes of meetings of public bodies. Since a public vote cannot be held in executive session — else there would be an illegal action taking place in the executive session — there always should be public record of a public vote.
Not recording votes does not inherently mean something illegal or unethical is taking place. However, if votes are not recorded publicly, then there is one less safeguard in place to ensure that company members and the general public can stay abreast of the company’s business.
The public and the news media are entitled to copies of the minutes and according to the Freedom of Information Act the copies should be made available soon after the meeting. Minutes for the preceding six months are made available without the person needing to make a written request of the public body, provided the body complies with the FOIA.
The water company had posted its minutes on its website at www.jenkinsvillewater.com going back to at least January 2012.