Colleton County does not need to hold a special vote after controversial changes to school board election districts, according to the South Carolina Attorney General's Office.
In an opinion issued Tuesday, Assistant Attorney General Brendan McDonald said the changes, which moved two incumbent school board members to other districts, will not affect school board elections in November nor require special elections. McDonald's opinion comes at the request of the Colleton County School Board, which asked for guidance on how to proceed with implementing a bill sponsored by Sen. Clementa Pinckney that moved two school board members, P.A. Pournelle and William Bowman Jr., into other election districts. The bill was signed into law in May.
Colleton residents and school board members have raised concerns about Pinckney's motives, saying they fear the legislation was political payback against Pournelle and Bowman for voting 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.
McDonald, in the written opinion, said there is nothing in Pinckney's bill that would prevent Pournelle and Bowman from completing their existing terms. Both school board members still have two years left to serve. The school board seat in Pournelle's new district is not up for election until 2016, but Bowman's new district is up for election in November. If Bowman chooses to serve out his existing term, he would have to wait until 2018 to run in his new district.
The School Board voted last month to pursue a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Pinckney's bill. Columbia attorney Butch Bowers, who is representing the board in the lawsuit, said Thursday there is no definite timeline for when the lawsuit may be filed but that it would likely be in the "near future."
"We are evaluating all of our legal options to challenge the legality and constitutionality of (Pinckney's bill)," Bowers said. "My clients are committed to doing everything they can to ensure that the constitutional rights of the citizens of Colleton County are protected."