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Citizens denied information on meeting of Commission

Chairman of St Andrews Parks and Playground criticized

Lee Edwards
Charleston
lee.edwards@mindspring.com

Sir,
The actions of the Chairman of the St Andrews Parks and Playground Commission (P&P) in relation to an enquiry by citizens over millage rates seem unjust and probably illegal.

Citizens’ concerns have grown recently over the difference between the St Andrews Public Service District (PSD) & the P&P regarding a tax decrease. The PSD has budgeted an 18% tax decrease for next year while the P&P is keeping its millage rate the same.

We approached members of the P&P earlier this year to join us in a common front to lower property taxes in the unincorporated areas of West Ashley. Their answer had been that, yes, they could lower taxes, but, no, they didn't have to do so. I had also heard reports that this matter had been discussed at the May 3, 2007 monthly meeting, and I was curious to hear the conversation regarding their refusal to lower property taxes.

I first emailed Mr. Kevin Walsh, General Manager of the St. Andrews Parks & Playgrounds asking for a copy of the May 3 meeting tape. Mr. Walsh's reply email stated that he had grave concerns as to why I wanted a copy of the meeting tape.

I then replied stating that I wanted to hear the discussion during the meeting. Seemingly acting under instructions of the P&P Chairman Jeff Gladwell, Mr. Walsh turned down the request I made under the Freedom of Information act.

In a follow up email, I cited the SC Code of Laws, Title 30, Chapter 4 that addresses such requests and clearly states that recordings are considered official government records and can be requested by any member of the public.

Mr. Walsh then replied that the meeting tape had been erased.

I have subsequently learned from copies of e mails now in my possession that Jeff Gladwell, Chairman of the P&P, ordered Mr. Walsh to deny my request for the recording. His exact words were: 'under no circumstances give him a tape or allow him to duplicate any of them’. The tape was then destroyed.

Not only did the Chairman order Mr. Walsh to deny me the meeting tapes, he also emailed 7 other individuals of his decision, one of those being an elected official of another governmental agency.

I am asking the proper authorities for a full investigation of this matter. I also think that in light of the severity of this situation, it would be in the best interest of the St. Andrews Parish for Chairman Gladwell and Mr. Walsh, General Manager of the St. Andrews Parks & Playgrounds, to voluntarily relinquish their respective positions, pending the investigation and resolution of this matter.

Needless to say, I am outraged by any action that keeps the truth from the people. We will never know exactly what was discussed at this meeting. The transcribed minutes of their previous meetings had been vague. I wanted to know exactly was discussed and by whom. With the destruction of government property, no one will ever know.

I am in the process of retaining legal council for advice and guidance. I am calling for a full and complete investigation.

Your Comments:

Incredible! Not only does Mr. Gladwell exhibit blatant disregard for the rights of the citizens to have an open government, he is beligerant enough to put it in writing. I wonder if the County Council is aware of his antics?

Posted by: Steven Caradine at June 29, 2007 07:00 PM

So does Rosemary Woods work at the Parks and Playgrounds? If the guy is too paranoid to hand over a copy of a tape of a public meeting, you have to wonder what's wrong. In business, we say who writes the minutes controls the outcome of the meeting - which is why, even in the corporate world, some meetings are taped.

Of course, this is a slap in the face of the Freedom of Information act - not only to deny a request of a copy of the tape, but to then 7 people to let them know that you did that? Are we dealing with paranoia or some sort of Napoleon complex? Are these the kind of people we want spending our tax dollars and working with young people?

Stella

Posted by: Stella Ardent at June 29, 2007 08:15 PM

Exactly Stella- What disturbs me is that the tapes were supposedly destroyed after a request had been made and Mr. Edwards had been initally been led to believe they would eventually be available. What does Mr. Gladwell have to hide? If he has to destroy public dialogue, you have to wonder goes on when there is nobody watching.

Posted by: Steven Caradine at June 30, 2007 08:32 AM

Having just seen your webpage, I feel I must respond to the comments made by Lee Edwards of the St Andrews Public Service District.
I have been acquainted with Mr. Edwards' antics for a couple of years now. I've never seen an individual so consumed with his own importance who would go to such lengths to convince others.
First of all, I think anyone who knows me or the integrity of the Parks & Playground will agree I would never compromise either. Nor would I mishandle the affairs of the Parks & Playground Commission. I have served on this Commission for the past 20 years, 15 as its Chairman. Most people can look at the facilities and the Local, State, National and International awards we have received and tell something good has come out of this Commission. And you know what? It's all been accomplished in the last 10 years without a tax increase. I think that speaks volumes for the Staff and Commission.
If we look very closely at this controversy, we find that Mr. Edwards really didn't request anything via the Freedom of Information Act. True, an email was sent to our Agency asking for a tape of our meeting. The email had Lee Edwards name on it, but who's to know? There was no mention of the Freedom of Information Act, nor was there a signature. Being the astute politician and student of the law that Mr. Edwards is, I'm sure he'd never make an error of this nature.
About the only thing Mr. Edwards got right in his comments to this forum was: I did instruct our Executive Director Kevin Walsh not to give Lee Edwards the tape of our May 3, 2007 meeting. Reason being, from past experience Mr. Edwards has a history of taking words out of context and/or altering them to suit his purpose. By May 3, 2007 our budget had already been voted on and approved by the Commission for almost 3 months. The Chairman of the St Andrews PSD, another Board Member and the Fire Chief, were all present at that meeting, and could have informed Mr. Edwards nothing was discussed concerning lowering the 2007-2008 Budget. The minutes of all our meetings are posted on our web-site, which clearly show nothing was discussed concerning lowering the Budget.
Mr. Edwards states in his comments to this forum, the PSD has budgeted an 18% tax decrease while keeping it's millage rate the same, and at the same time, states he is outraged by any action that keeps the truth from the people. I wonder why Mr. Edwards didn't inform the tax payer the PSD had only spent 4.5 million of last years 5.7 million dollar budget, but increased next year's budget to 5.9 million? How much of a tax decrease is that? Wonder why Mr. Edwards doesn't tell the tax payer the 1.2 million dollars that was charged in excess taxes last year plus the exorbitant taxes charged in the past are now stock-piled in Columbia at the State Treasures office drawing interest? Wonder why Mr. Edwards doesn't inform the tax payer that the PSD doesn't even consider personal property tax it collects in the formulation of its budget like all other Governmental Agencies? Why is it, Mr. Edwards doesn't inform the public about the SLED investigation concerning the PSD and the Insurance Fraud? And wonder why Mr. Edwards doesn't inform the taxpayer, for the second year in succession the PSD Chairman doesn't even reside in the District in which they were elected? I could go on and on concerning the actions that the PSD conceals from the public, but I think one can get the pcture. These shocking examples are just a few of the drawbacks of what a small government that answers to no one can get into. The average taxpayer is too busy making a living to watch the budgeting and spending practices of the PSD. They rightfully expect their elected officials to be good stewards of the dollars in which they are entrusted.
With all that said, I can now reveal to Mr. Edwards the tape has been listened to by the media and copies have been made for distribution. If you would like to have a copy under the Freedom of Information Act, please request (in writing) a time from Mr. Walsh to come by the office and record a copy for yourself. In the future, I cordially invite you to gather your information first hand by attending our meetings which are open to the public and are held the last Thursday of each month at 7:00 p.m. at the Commission Office. Please know that I'm certainly not perfect, and don't pretend to be, but I do love children and want to see the very best for them and the taxpayers of the District. I take full responsibility for this situation, the policies of the Staff and Commission of the Parks and Playground and the content of this correspondence.
Sincerely,
Jeff Gladwell, Chairman
St. Andrews Parks & Playground Commission

Posted by: Jeff Gladwell at July 15, 2007 07:46 PM

Mr. Gladwell, you have the right under what law to withhold public records from any citizen of this state? You have openly admitted to intentionally breaking the law and ordering others to do the same.

Who is to say that the tapes have not been altered by you or your boy, Mr. Walsh?

Do you remember the phrase "under no circumstances"?

To deny any citizen access to public records is not only reprehensible, but illegel, no matter your personal feelings of the person.

Posted by: anonymous at July 17, 2007 05:03 PM

I am outraged!
I am outraged as I read how politicans can manipulate situations to their own likings. As I reviewed Mr. Edwards editorial I was bitterly angered that Mr. Gladwell refused to lower P&P taxes along with the PSD. I subsequently then found out while reading the responses that the Parks & Playgrounds had not RAISED their taxes in nearly 10 years while the PSD's has been rising all the while!! Did Mr. Edwards lie? No! But he clearly misrepresented the truth to slant in one direction. For that I am angered to the deepest seeds of my soul. I am made sick as I realize this is the way of even small local politicians. And while not yet verified, if Mr. Gladwell's accusations are true I realize I have little to no faith in our elected officials of the PSD. I am neither a Joe Riley fan, so I wonder if North Charleston is accepting requests for annexation?

Posted by: anonymous at July 17, 2007 07:30 PM

Cannot beleive that a commissioner of St Andrews PSD would act like Mr Edwards has. Also cannot beleive that the other Commisioners have their heads in the sand about the our taxes. Hope they have big plans for the numerous blue trash cans they are going to have as more and more people annex to the City of Charleston because of their poor management style. I betcha Joe Riley includes all personal property in his budget. I bet he will be counting the boats, cars and motorcycles of annexed St Andrews people.

Posted by: anonymous at July 17, 2007 11:00 PM

Subject: An Open Letter To St. Andrews Parks & Playgrounds Commissioners Bailey, Ethridge, Eykin, & Johnson

Dear St. Andrews Parks & Playgrounds Commissioners Bailey, Ethridge, Eykin, & Johnson:

I write to you because I am deeply concerned with the direction the leadership of the Parks and Playgrounds Commission has taken. Your chairman and general manager have lied and conspired to withhold from me a copy of the audio recording of your May 3, 2007 public meeting. I attempted to exercise my legal right as a citizen of this State and an elected official of this Parish to obtain a copy of the recorded minutes of this meeting.

As you know, Mr. Gladwell and Mr. Walsh, through emails (in which each of you were copied on) did the following.: First Mr. Walsh stalled my request. Then Mr. Gladwell ordered him not to provide access, then, ultimately, Mr. Walsh told an open and boldfaced lie that the tape had been erased.

And now….according to statements made by Your Chairman and Your General Manager, in the July 17 edition of "West of", the recording does exist! It was never erased! Mr. Gladwell and Mr. Walsh freely admit that they worked together to deny my right to a copy of the meeting tape! They openly, and with no hesitation, admitted to lying to me in an email!

I do have a few questions for you:

1) Were you consulted in the decision to deny me a copy of the recording?
2) If you were consulted, did you agree or disagree with this decision?
3) Do you plan to make a statement or take any action concerning this situation?

Since the name of the Parks and Playgrounds has been used, and this action was undertaken by one of your employees, it does involve you as a commissioner.

Mr. Gladwell serves as your chairman only through your good graces. Mr. Walsh is employed by the Commission as a whole, not by Mr. Gladwell. I ask you to relieve Mr. Walsh of his duties, and to replace Mr. Gladwell as your chairman. I also ask you to petition the Governor, and the South Carolina State Attorney General to remove Mr. Gladwell from your commission.

I look forward to your reply.

Lee Edwards

Posted by: Lee Edwards at July 19, 2007 12:19 AM

Mr. Gladwell is in error when he states that an e-mail is not a legal written request. It is admissible in a court of law. An e-mail is not only considered a legal document, it is considered a public document.

It is a public document - and not a private document - for a number of reasons. When an e-mail is sent, it goes through the internet and gets received by many, many computers and servers. With a court order, e-mails can be retrieved through a number of locations - the computers where sent, received or the computers that are internet servers that merely pass the mail along. Many e-mails are never deleted and the deletion is beyond the control of the sender - for example google mail is never deleted - mainly because they wanted to avoid the trouble and cost of having to recover "deleted" mail.

Furthermore, there is a clear electronic trail of where that e-mail came from, from what computer it was sent, what internet provider the parties used and so on.

So, if Mr. Gladwell were concerned, he could have taken measures to identify the exact computer from which the e-mail was sent. Although, a less paranoid person could have simply picked up the phone and called Mr. Edwards.

Your e-mail can be retrieved and read by any number of people or robots after it is sent.

So, Mr. Edwards made a legal public written request for the tape and Mr. Gladwell made a legal public written statement denying the request. Mr. Walsh also made a legal written public statement that the tapes were destroyed.

If you think that e-mail and instant messages are not legal public records, then you have not paid attention to the thousands of cases where these documents were treated as such. For example, you can probably still find news paper articles online about the senate page lawsuit that contains many of the e-mails and instant messages were sent.

Also, I do not believe that the initial request has to cite the FOIA chapter and verse, but it appears that Mr. Edwards went to all the trouble to cite the exact paragraph in his request.

Posted by: Stella at July 19, 2007 09:48 AM

Now I have seen everything. I thought sending an email ordering an employee to break the law was incredibly audacious, but then bragging about it in a "newspaper" is the height of beligerance. Having an extreme dislike for an individual does not constitute a reason for denying them their rights as a citizen. The fact that Mr. Walsh wanted to be left alone is understandable, given the circumstances, but certainly is not an excuse for lying.

I fail to understand what taxes has to do with misconduct in office. It is a hot issue, but I doubt the courts will see it as a reason to overlook the crass behavior of these guys. I would think that they would stop harping on that since the PSD lowered taxes by 18% this year. That is substantial by anyone's standards.

I would be very interested to know what it was they did not want Edwards to hear. I am very happy to see that Mr. Gladwell loves the little children. My question is: Does he teach them that it is alright to lie and break the law if it suits your needs? I would have to think hard before turning my children over to such a man.

Posted by: Steven Caradine at July 19, 2007 02:12 PM

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