By APRIL BAILEY Staff writer Aiken Standard
Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, is calling for transparency from the Lower Savannah Council of Governments.
The state senator released a statement Tuesday asking that the organization release all information that relates to its support of the incorporation effort for the three towns of Graniteville, Vaucluse and Warrenville.
Ryberg said he filed two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests on July 16, asking for “all documents, correspondence and other material including electronic material related to the Graniteville, Vaucluse and Warrenville incorporation effort.” The request also asked for “all records from the accounts engaged in the Graniteville, Vaucluse and Warrenville incorporation effort to include names of all donors and all recipients of any and all money involved in the effort,” according to the release.
The law allows 15 business days for FOIA requests to be fulfilled; thus far, Ryberg says he hasn’t received the information yet. “Since they are a public body, those records should be disclosed,” he said Tuesday. “I think those that will be affected by that decision deserve full disclosure.”
Ryberg also says he has recently learned that LSCOG has been lending financial support to the incorporation by taking “donations from individuals, made as tax-exempt donations, and appeared to funnel them through its accounts to further support the effort,” he said. “I remain puzzled by the arrangement whereby a public body take private money for political purposes,” Ryberg said. “I am alarmed by the reluctance of LSCOG to turn over the record of those transactions.”
An official with LSCOG could not be reached Tuesday; however, members of the GVW Incorporation Study Committee say they have not received any donations from LSCOG to fund the incorporation effort. The group issued a response Tuesday, saying “when the LSCOG releases the records it has the authority to release, it will show that approximately $39,500 in donations have been received through June 2008, and during that time, approximately $33,500 have been spent on legal services, accounting services, bank and accounting charges, office supplies and public meeting expenses,” read the statement. “None of these funds held by the LSCOG have been spent on any political campaign and none will be for any political campaign, including influencing the outcome of the GVW election.”
Charles Hilton, chairman of the GVW Incorporation Study Committee, said the LSCOG is providing only accounting services for the committee. “They haven’t given a dime to us,” he said. “We’re paying them to do an accounting service.”
In the release, the group also writes that it “understands that the LSCOG is reviewing the requested records and seeking legal advice on what may and may not be released under the FOIA since some of the donors requested anonymity on their donations as expressly allowed by the provisions of the FOIA.” The release also included a statement from the study group, saying that the U.S. Department of Justice has granted the needed clearance to GVW officials to hold the referendum on Aug. 26.
Ryberg said he has been contacted by several people wanting more information about the proposed incorporation, which is why he issued the request. Though the residents in the proposed GVW incorporation area are not his constituents, he says that as an elected public official, he feels it’s his job to answer those questions. “Again, we are seeking transparency,” Ryberg said. “Voters have asked, and I believe the voters deserve the right to know how public money is being spent to influence their futures. The vote on incorporation will forever transform the lives of thousands of citizens, and these voters just want full disclosure before they vote.”