Colleton County joins lawsuit to stop school board redistricting

By Ava Wilhite

COLLETON COUNTY, S.C. (WCIV) Five Colleton County groups have joined a lawsuit to fight the redistricting of the school board voting lines. Colleton County Council is the latest group to join after a vote Thursday afternoon.

There was a brief executive session before Colleton County council returned to take a vote.

Three out of four council members at the meeting agreed the county should join the suit. The fourth council chair, Phillip Taylor Sr., voted against joining the lawsuit.

"We, as Colleton County Council, do not have sufficient standing in the lawsuit as I feel. In terms of the issue, did not unseat any council member of this council or anything to that degree. And if there was an issue that would be brought up, it should be led primarily by the school district and the board of the school district," said Taylor.

He says he understands the community concerns about redistricting. He says usually there is a public process.

The Colleton County School District, the City of Walterboro, the Colleton Walterboro Chamber of Commerce and the Colleton Business Alliance are all plaintiffs in the suit. They said they did not know a redistricting bill was written until after it passed.

"I think the main thrust is the constitutionality of the legislation passed," said Taylor.

Council member Gene Whetsell voted in favor of joining the lawsuit. He says he disagrees with how state Sen. Clementa Pinckney passed the bill without input.

"We believed at least the school board should have known something about it. We believe our people, if we do something like this on the county level, we have to have hearings and thing like that to let the people know what's going on," Whetsell said.

Council member Steve Murdaugh says the timing of the new law is also unusual.

"Typically your rezoning will take place right after your census, which is when the Senate and the House districts are drawn as well as county council districts," Murdaugh said. "Frankly there are that they have to follow and do for that and maybe they don't apply to the school board , but I think you should still follow that as a matter of principle."

Now council members will ask their attorney to draft a formal letter of intent to join the lawsuit.

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