A dispute over changes to school board election districts in Colleton County is headed to court after several government bodies voted this week to file a lawsuit.
The Colleton County School Board voted Tuesday to pursue a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a bill sponsored by Sen. Clementa Pinckney that moved two school board members into other election districts. Colleton County Council voted Thursday to join the lawsuit. Walterboro City Council, Walterboro-Colleton Chamber of Commerce and the Colleton Business Alliance have also signed on as plaintiffs in the suit.
Colleton residents and school board members have raised concerns about Pinckney's intentions with the bill, saying they fear the legislation was political payback against school board members who voted to dismiss Superintendent Leila Williams in March. Pinckney, D-Ridgeland, has said he was only trying to ensure the district was following the Voting Rights Act, which requires the population in election districts to be evenly distributed with a racial balance.
Colleton County Councilman Steven Murdaugh said he doesn't like that the school board was not informed about the bill and that there were no public hearings on the changes to election districts prior to the bill's passage.
"I just don't think that's the way you do business," he said.
Colleton School Board member William Bowman Jr., who is among those facing a move to a new district, said the school board has hired an attorney in Columbia and that a lawsuit will likely be filed in the next month. The school board has also asked for an opinion from the state attorney general on how to proceed with implementing Pinckney's plan. It's unclear whether the school district will have to hold special elections in November.
Bowman hopes a judge will rule the bill is unconstitutional and allow the General Assembly to vote on a new bill next year that redraws election districts without moving incumbent school board members.
Pinckney blocked three other bills filed by Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, and Sen. Kenneth Hodges, D-Green Pond, that would have either repealed his bill or redrawn the election districts without impacting any school board members.
The school board, Bowman said, isn't against redrawing election districts. They would just like it done another way.
"The problem I have personally with the bill is why move incumbents?" Bowman said. "I don't think it was done in the most prestigious way that it could be done."
Reach Amanda Kerr at 937-5546 or at Twitter.com/PCAmandaKerr.