A lawsuit filed against Bamberg County Council claims its contract with its administrator is illegal.
The group suing council also claims members were prevented from exercising their constitutional right to bring their grievances before council.
A four-page complaint, filed by resident Susan Ellis and the Concerned Citizens of Bamberg County, claims Bamberg County Council illegally entered into a contract with Anderson-based Preston Consulting LLC on Nov. 5, 2018.
The lawsuit asks the court to rule the contract between the county and Preston Consulting to be null and void.
Preston Consulting is owned and operated by Joey Preston, the county's administrator. Preston directed all questions to county attorney Richard Ness. Ness did not return both email and phone messages by the close of business Wednesday.
The lawsuit alleges, “that rather than following the statute of employing a county administrator, that council entered into a contract with an LLC to act as county administrator.”
According to the terms of the contract, the county is paying Preston Consulting, LLC $130,711.10 per year.
The lawsuit alleges council has violated the South Carolina Home Rule Act and specifically the law pertaining to the council-administrator form of county government.
The lawsuit cites state law, which says “council shall employ an administrator who shall be the administrative head of the county government and shall be responsible for the administration of all the departments of the county government which the council has authority to control."
The complaint notes “that as a corporation, Preston Consulting, LLC is a separate and distinct entity over which Bamberg County Council has limited, at best, control which is limited to the terms of the contract.”
The lawsuit goes on to state that Preston Consulting is an independent contractor, not a county employee.
"As an independent contractor, Preston Consulting, LLC dictates the methods, hours and manner in which it fulfills its duties," the complaint states. "An employee by contrast would have to perform his/her work in the manner dictated by defendant and at such times as dictated by the defendant."
The complaint says the contract expands the termination of the contract beyond state law.
The lawsuit also claims Bamberg County Council has stopped the Concerned Citizens from exercising their constitutional right to freely assemble by directing the Bamberg County sheriff to shut the doors of the council meetings “excluding plaintiffs from being able to address their grievances to their government.”
Members of the Concerned Citizens presented a petition to the clerk of council expressing their concerns over Preston’s contract. While they say their concerns were presented within the time frame set by the county ordinances, the matter was not added to council's agenda.