City council passes contract with secrecy clause

The contract says the city “shall not disclose consulting fees to any third party… If Client is questioned by third party as to consulting fees, Client shall direct third party to Vendor (the consulting firm).”

Clinton City Council voted unanimously Oct. 3 to approve a contract with a clause that required the city to keep the amount of the contract secret. After being questioned by reporters, city officials released the details of the contract the next day, but only after getting the “permission” of the firm hired to lobby state officials on the city’s behalf. At the end of the Oct. 3 council meeting, after an hour-long executive session, Council member Norman Scarborough made a motion for the city to “enter into a contract for professional service for lobbying and consulting services.” Council member Jimmy Young seconded the motion, which passed unanimously with no discussion. Neither the name of the firm nor the amount of the contract was given. After the meeting adjourned, reporters from The Chronicle and WLBG radio questioned both City Manager Frank Stovall and Mayor Bob McLean about contract details. When asked the amount of the contract, Stovall said, “I can’t tell you that,” adding the contract included a non-disclosure clause. McLean said he did not know the amount because Stovall was going to negotiate the terms of the contract. The contract is between the city and Steven Fooshe & Associates LLC in Columbia and calls for Clinton to pay the firm $3,000 per month for one year. Stovall said on Tuesday that the city is asking the fee to be adjusted “to reflect a shortened contract term” to coincide with the city’s fiscal year. The contract as written calls for a term of Sept. 15, 2016 until Sept. 14, 2017. The contract says the city “shall not disclose consulting fees to any third party… If Client is questioned by third party as to consulting fees, Client shall direct third party to Vendor (the consulting firm).” David Carter is listed in the contract as a registered lobbyist for Steven Fooshe & Associates. Carter worked on McLean’s 2015 re-election campaign and was paid $2,000 by McLean’s campaign. Carter is listed on SC Ethic Commission filings as a consultant. McLean said he did not push for the city to hired Fooshe or Carter. He said the lobbyists approached Stovall. “I stayed out of it completely,” McLean said. “I didn’t approach any council member.” In fact, McLean said he was “surprised” that council voted to hire the lobbying firm. “I thought they would tie David Carter to me and vote against it,” the mayor said. “But they voted for it because it was the right thing in their minds. “It restores some of my faith in my council,” an emotional McLean said. “They may not care for me, but they voted for what’s right for the City of Clinton.” Stovall said Fooshe’s firm will lobby lawmakers to try to get more funding from the state. “Our community is facing several challenges and I would attribute some of the challenges to the loss of the local government fund and the expected impacts that changes to the local government fund legislation and business license legislation, which we anticipate seeing in the upcoming cycle, will have on our city,” the city manager said. According to a list provided by Stovall, which hasn’t been approved by council Clinton’s lobbyists will be seeking funding to: Support expansion of the sewer system at the I26 Commerce Park and repairs to the city’s sewer system required by a DHEC consent order; DOT assistance and federal DOT FASTLANE assistance to improve the I385/I26 interchange at Hwy. 56; More state funding to support water infrastructure rehabilitation; Funding to remove the DOT shed from prime retails space on I26 adjacent to the I26 Commerce Park; State and federal assistance to increase railroad warning devices in Clinton; Funds to support development of parks and motor and walking tourism trails. Stovall said the City of Inman, another of Fooshe’s clients, received $200,000 to support sewer and a farmer’s market. “My take from council is that they want to test the waters and see if this approach might work for us, as it has in other communities in the state,” the city manager said. Asked how the success of the firm will be judged, McLean said, “If we reap a lot more than we put into it, it’s been a success. If we don’t, it’s a failure and we need to quit.”

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