Attorneys for Springfield and the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority presented oral arguments on the legality of Springfield City Councilman Charles Hinely’s appointment to the IDA board Wednesday morning in Effingham County Superior Court.
“The facts of this matter are really very simple,” Springfield Attorney Charles Barrow said in court. “That doesn’t mean the issue is.”
Barrow said the city is looking for a declaratory opinion on the legality of the appointment. He said the city has the power to appoint one person to the IDA board.
“The only guidance in that legislation is that the individual must be a citizen of Springfield,” Barrow said.
Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Judge F. Gates Peed said if one of the offices were a state office it would be answered immediately because no one is allowed to hold state office and another office.
“I think the same principle applies to municipal government,” Barrow said.
Barrow said he also included the charter of the city that also provides no guidance in the issue.
“The case law says when the local government authority has the power to appoint it is presumed that they will not be able to appoint one of their own members unless the legislation creating the appointing power gives that expressed authority,” Barrow said. “That case law has been consistent since 1879.”
Barrow said there have not been many cases, but in the cases where a council member was to be appointed it has not been allowed.
Barrow said the purpose of the established case law is to prevent conflict of interest issues in local government.
“Not that there is a conflict of interest necessarily,” Barrow said. “But we don’t want to even allow the appearance of impropriety, or the possibility for a conflict to develop.”
Barrow said there are times when the city and the IDA must work together, and “one person should not be wearing two hats.”
Mickey Kicklighter, representing the IDA, said Hinely was on the IDA board before he was a council member. His first term for the IDA ended the year he was elected to council, and the city reappointed him to the IDA after he had taken office.
Rincon, Guyton and Springfield have the authority to appoint one member each, and the county has the authority to appoint one member from each of the five districts.
“There is no provision by the appointing authorities to remove anybody that they appoint,” Kicklighter said. “In my opinion, that is not accidental, that is on purpose.”
Kicklighter said he believes the appointing authorities do not have that power to prevent them from removing an appointee when the IDA does something unpopular.
“The purpose is to avoid what may be going on here, and that’s a political attack,” he said.
Kicklighter said members are appointed to avoid political pressure. He believed a declaratory judgment was inappropriate in this matter because the city does not have the authority to remove Hinely from the IDA.
Kicklighter said in order for Hinely to be removed from office, a suit on the legality of his appointment must be brought to the court by a person.
“The city cannot remove him directly; they cannot remove him indirectly as well,” he said.
Peed mentioned the validity of the actions of the IDA if it was found that Hinely was not a legal member.
“You raise the same issue (Barrow) raised and that is whether the actions of the board are valid, and the answer is they are,” Kicklighter said. “There’s no question about the IDA’s authority to act.”
Kicklighter said there is no conflict of interest because the IDA does not receive funds from the city.
“They do not want a person sitting on a board or commission that receives money from the city,” he said. “It’s all related to a financial conflict of interest.”
Barrow said if the city cannot file suit to remove a member of the IDA, the only option they have is to work for a declaratory judgment.
“I would beg to differ conflict of interests don’t exist solely on money issues,” he said.
Barrow said recently the IDA and Springfield had to work out an intergovernmental agreement, and while no conflict arose at that time, there is the possibility for conflicts in the future.
“The issue is what principle of law are we going to live by in local government,” he said. “Are we going to allow an individual to wear two hats where there is a potential for conflict, and a potential for the appearance of impropriety? Can a human being have two masters, and always hold both masters to the highest level in public service?”
Kicklighter said the city does not have a legal course of action.
“It’s designed that way that they can’t remove someone they’ve already appointed,” he said. “Of course, there are going to be conflicts, and that’s why we have a code of ethics.”
The Springfield City Council approved a resolution Tuesday to pursue the legality of the appointment in court.
Mayor Barton Alderman told the council he had received a call from Barrow requesting the council vote on a resolution to pursue court proceedings.
“The purpose of this is to dot an ‘i,’” Barrow said. “A technicality in my view of having everything in front of the judge that he will need to proceed.
“There was no official resolution,” Barrow said. “I need this piece of paper to put into the court’s file so he knows you wanted this done.”
Council member Dennis Webb said the proceeding was something that the council had been looking at for almost a year. He asked when a ruling was expected.
Barrow said that would be at the judge’s discretion.
“After (Wednesday), we will be done other than waiting on him to make a ruling,” Barrow said.
The motion to adopt the resolution passed 4-1. Council member Max Niedlinger voted against the resolution. Hinely abstained.
Alderman asked Hinley if he was going to vote.
“I’m not voting,” Hinely said.
He said since he was the council member the vote was concerning, he thought he shouldn’t vote.