Some say a church is its people, not the place where they gather to worship.
The Charleston County School Board discussed behind closed doors on Monday the request from Healing Ministries Baptist Church Center to waive the extra charge for use of the former Charlestowne Academy building.The agenda said it would “discuss contractual matters in executive session,” and S.C. Press Association Attorney Jay Bender said that statement of purpose was inadequate.Although the Freedom of Information Act permitted the board to have that discussion in executive session, he said it should be more specific. District attorney John Emerson said it was an oversight that the district failed to provide an adequate description. The district typically gives that information and would continue doing so, he said.
That may be true, but Charleston County school officials own one church's building and say it must pay for the time that space has been used.
Healing Ministries Baptist Church Center is allowed to use the former Charlestowne Academy building on Rivers Avenue for 16 hours per month. Records show the church spent nearly 16 additional hours in the space during December and January, and it owes $655.
The church is pastored by school board member Chris Collins, and he doesn't think the church should have to pay. The way the district documents use of the building isn't accurate, and he said it's not fair to ask the church to pay for time it didn't use the building.
District officials counter that the building's alarm system records when anyone enters the space using the church's access code, and those hours have been billed to Healing Ministries.
The school board took up the issue earlier this week and decided 6-2 that the church would have to pay for the extra time. Board members Tom Ducker and Elizabeth Moffly voted against the majority. Collins abstained but made his case as to why the charges should be waived.
“We're not trying to get out of paying anything we owe,” he said. “We are a public service body. We're not hurting anyone. We're not a burden to the school district. We're just trying to provide a service.”
This isn't the first time the school board has had to deal with problems involving Collins' church. In November, the board agreed to end the district's lease agreement with the church in June. The church apparently had been violating its lease with the district for months, and concerns were raised about the way it used the space, the amount of time it used the building, and whether it had insurance.
At the time, the board mandated that Collins' church set the building's alarm when it's not using the space, and any time that alarm wasn't set would be considered use of the building. The church is billed $41.50 per hour for extra time.
Moffly said she voted against the majority because she had questions about whether the district's alarm system was working properly. Still, she said she doesn't think it's a good idea for Collins to be involved in leased space from the district because he could end up feeling pressured to take the district's side rather than standing up for what he believes. “That's a terrible place to put yourself when you're supposed to be looking out for the taxpayer,” she said.
Collins said some board members might think the situation is a conflict of interest, but he said he's a taxpayer, too. Being a board member doesn't prohibit his use of district space, he said.
“We're not taking advantage of anything,” he said.
Still, he said the church would comply with the board's decision and pay the additional $655. The church pays $664 per month to lease the space.
He hasn't figured out where the church will go after June, but he said he's not worried about it. “We're just looking to God to guide us and show us what he wants us to do,” he said. “God will provide whatever we need.”