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Home rule: Ryan wants council to fill boards

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Georgetown County Council members would regain the power to appoint members of several boards and commissions, including the county Board of Elections and Voter Registration, under a bill introduced this week by S.C. Rep. Kevin Ryan.

Under state law, a county’s legislative delegation has the responsibility to appoint members to such groups. The Georgetown County delegation transferred that power to County Council through legislation in 1996, but reclaimed it several years later.

“I feel like it was really a slap in the face to council to say we don’t trust you or we should have the appointment powers instead of you,” said Ryan, a Republican. “These appointments really should be a county level decision.”

But Democrat Carl Anderson, the other House member on the county’s delegation, disagrees.

“Those groups get at least some funds from the state and the state leaders should have the authority to make appointments to those groups,” Anderson said.

The bill was referred to the county delegation upon introduction after Anderson objected to it.

In addition to the elections board, the bill would transfer powers of appointment for the County Transportation Committee, the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments planning board and the Horry-Georgetown Technical College advisory board.

Anderson said he hasn’t heard any complaints about appointments to those groups.

Ryan said he decided to introduce the bill after being approached by several council members, including Jerry Oakley. Council is expected to pass a resolution at its next meeting in support of the bill.

“With all due respect to the legislative delegation, this is a basic home rule issue,” Oakley said.

The County Transportation Committee is responsible for spending the county’s portion of funds from the state gasoline sales tax on county roads, “so why shouldn’t the power to appoint the members of that committee lie with the local governing body?” he asked.

There are also practical reasons for giving council power over the elections board, he added.

“You have a director with staff over there and no clear line of accountability,” Oakley said. “The chairman of the delegation has said they don’t report to the delegation and they don’t report to the county administrator. Who is responsible for those folks?

“Luckily, we have good people over there, but what if we have an issue? It is not a good situation to be in.”

Vida Miller, who was the House representative for Ryan’s district when the delegation reclaimed the powers of appointment, said she has no doubt that was the right decision.

The Georgetown County delegation was one of several that relinquished some of its appointment powers to local governing bodies and “they realized it was a huge, unconstitutional mistake,” she said.

An opinion by the state’s attorney general issued in 2007 to S.C. Sen. Glenn McConnell on a similar issue in Charleston County said the transfer of appointment power to a county council is “constitutionally suspect as special legislation.”

Gov. Nikki Haley spoke out this week against such legislation, that would apply only in certain jurisdictions. She praised House members for unanimously sustaining her veto of local legislative bill that would have affected water and sewer districts in Aiken County and their election of commissioners. The action was “the first step in what I hope is the end of the unconstitutional practice of local legislation,” she said.

While Ryan acknowledges his bill is local legislation, he said there is no other mechanism by which to devolve the delegation’s appointment powers to County Council.

“I think the governor would view my bill as a step in the right direction given her belief that ‘the best government is that closest to the people.’ ” Ryan said. “That is exactly why I am trying to uphold home rule by devolving these powers from the legislative delegation to the governing body of the county.

He will focus on getting the bill past the county delegation and through the House, before he worries about a veto, he said.

“I’m speaking with Rep. Anderson to hopefully work out any issues.”

Based her experiences when County Council previously had appointment powers for the groups in Ryan’s bill, Miller said she believes it would be a mistake to go back to that system.

“Here we were doing state funding for these groups and County Council was making the appointments,” she said. She said there were problems with the county transportation committee specifically. Council members were using the money to fund “pet projects” and to supplement county funds, she said, “and here roads all over the county were still unpaved.”

The system didn’t make sense, according to Miller, particularly with groups that serve multiple counties, such as the boards for Waccamaw Regional and Horry-Georgetown Tech.

The groups that serve only Georgetown County are the ones council members are most concerned with having appointment powers for. Oakely said he can see the reason behind leaving appointments for multi-county boards with the delegation.

Ryan said he hopes eventually to see delegations across the state relinquish appointment powers.

“Ultimately, I would like to see the legislative delegation system ended and have all powers/appointments devolved to local governments,” Ryan said. “The chances of that happening anytime soon are slim-to-none which is why I have decided to pursue the issue on a local level as a first step.”

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