After an hour-long executive session on April 20, in which Nexsen Pruet attorney David Black and attorney Shannon Burnett briefed the board on two lawsuits the town of Blythewood is involved in with MPA Strategies , Mr. Black told the council that the publisher of The Voice had cost the City nearly $70,000 for FOIA requests submitted in relation to the two lawsuits.
Unless I missed something, The Voice only submitted six FOIA requests regarding the MPA lawsuits, and received the following responsive documents: 3 RFPs (requests for proposals), 13 pages and a link (not copies) to 1,886 documents, about half of which did not request – just $70,000 in FOIA responses.
Mr. Black’s claim of “nearly $70,000” is absurd, false and probably impossible. It was the latest salvo from Mr. Franklin’s team to spread false allegations against The Voice.
This issue dates back to Franklin’s angst after the board voted 3-2 on February 22, 2021 to hire MPA Strategies, rather than the Blythewood Chamber of Commerce (its choice), to provide marketing and grant writing services. to the city for $40,000 a year.
A few months after that vote, MPA had filed a lawsuit against the city after Mr. Franklin failed to submit compliant documents to MPA as required by law, then Mr. Franklin, attorney Shannon Burnett and the City administrator Carroll Williamson hired solicitor David Black and filed a counter-suit against MPA, without the knowledge or consent of the city council. On July 20, 2021, the board voted 3 to 1 to terminate MPA’s contract in what could have been an illegal meeting. Both trials are ongoing.
Since then, Mr Franklin has consoled himself with the idea that MPA did not win the vote or get the fair and square contract, but conspired with Councilman Donald Brock and others to steal the vote.
After The Voice editor failed to peddle this account, Mr. Franklin and Mr. Black lumped The Voice together with the other “conspirators”.
Although Mr Black has provided no evidence to support his claim of ‘almost $70,000’, records obtained by The Voice show the city was in fact billed $20,045.50 by Nexsen Pruet for the combined responses FOIA issued to The Country Chronicle ($12,269.00) and The Voice ($7,776.50) – an exorbitant amount for perhaps 10-12 FOIA requests from two newspapers.
However, it is Mr. Franklin who is totally responsible for these high costs, not The Voice.
Instead of each councilman handing over documents that responded to FOIA requests, as is often the case, Mr. Franklin insisted that data from their devices be extracted, exported, separated, etc., etc. by a computer forensic expert at a cost of $200 per hour, which could cost $500 per device.
It was an expensive process that Franklin was willing to pay for, even though the SC Freedom of Information Act requires public agencies to provide records at the lowest possible cost.
As Mr Franklin and Mr Black began making unsubstantiated allegations against MPA, Mr Brock, The Voice and others, The Country Chronicle editor Tonya Page began publishing the mantra of Mr. Franklin and Mr. Black.
Page wrote recently that “Black asserted that the allegations in Blythewood’s counterclaims were substantiated and that Brock, Hunter and Dickey [MPA’s attorney] had conspired with Voice editor Barbara Ball to promote the MPA and discredit Blythewood Mayor Bryan Franklin.
If Mr Franklin was discredited, it was his own fault, demonizing The Voice at public city council meetings – once for an excruciating 20 minutes – and in the media. He seems pushed in his quest, letting an audience escape: “Nobody reads The Voice. I don’t know!” and similar derogatory remarks.
The financial solution
As The Voice did not and will not bow to Mr Franklin’s pressure to comply, Blythewood Town Government and Town Solicitor Shannon Burnett eventually pulled their advertisement from The Voice but continue to advertise with The Country Chronicle.
The loss of this combined advertising revenue, which the previous year amounted to more than $29,400, was a financial blow to the newspaper’s already modest budget.
If the intention of Mr. Franklin’s team is to intimidate or starve The Voice into submission or turn the community against the newspaper, that’s even more of a shame. They may have grossly misjudged their abilities in this regard.
The Voice will continue to report the news objectively, thoroughly and unreservedly for as long as our doors are open.
But one thing is as certain as the sky, this newspaper is not going to sell its soul for $29,400.