S.C. Ethics Commission says all Aiken City Council members can vote on AMDC dissolving ordinance

Apr. 27—A lawyer for the South Carolina Ethics Commission said Wednesday no members of the Aiken City Council need to recuse themselves from voting on an ordinance dissolving the Aiken Municipal Development Commission.

Courtney Laster, general counsel for the S.C. Ethics Commission, said in a letter answering City Attorney Gary Smith's request for an informal opinion that Mayor Rick Osbon, Mayor Pro Tempore Ed Woltz and City Council members Lessie Price and Gail Diggs don't need to recuse themselves.

Smith submitted a request for an informal opinion April 13, two days after the city council voted to continue second and final reading of the ordinance.

The ordinance dissolves the Aiken Municipal Development Commission and transfers ownership of the properties and other assets under its control to the city council.

The AMDC owns the Beckman Building, Hotel Aiken, the building where Taj Aiken is located, the Dr. C.C. Johnson Drug Store, Warneke Cleaners, Newberry Hall and the former Jackson Petroleum property. It also has around $100,000 in a bank account.

In his request, Smith said one council member owns a dry-cleaning business that completes with another dry-cleaning business that rents property owned by the AMDC.

Osbon is the owner of Osbon's Laundry and Cleaners.

Smith said another council member operates a business adjacent to property owned by the AMDC.

Woltz and his wife, Holly, own Sutton Marine which is located adjacent to the Jackson Petroleum properties.

When the city council approved the first reading of the ordinance March 27, Osbon and Woltz, citing these business interests, recused themselves from voting.

Laster said their recusal wasn't necessary.

She said Osbon and Woltz did not appear to have an economic interest in the ordinance because there does not appear to be an economic benefit if the properties owned by the AMDC change ownership.

Laster added even if there was an economic interest, a "large class exception" would apply because the owner of every property adjacent to the AMDC properties would gain the same benefit.

Smith said two council members previously served on the Aiken Corporation Board of Directors before resigning in March 2023.

Price and Diggs resigned from the Aiken Corporation board in 2023.

Laster said even assuming a conflict existed when Price and Diggs served on the Aiken Corporation Board of Directors — there's an exception for council members serving on boards because they're on the city council like Price and Diggs were on the Aiken Corporation board — that conflict ceased to exist when Price and Diggs resigned.

"Accordingly, it is the opinion of Commission staff that the four Council Members are permitted to vote on the proposed ordinance," Laster said.