HCS sign district office

Allegations made in a lawsuit filed by the former spokeswoman for the Horry County School district are troublesome.

Teal Britton, who worked for HCS from 1993 until her termination in 2020, filed the wrongful termination suit in Horry County last week.

In her lawsuit, Britton contends that she drew the ire of top HCS officials because she released records about the district’s controversial school construction program in response to S.C. Freedom of Information Act requests.

I recall the situation clearly.

Our reporters were trying to get information about a deal the school district made with Firstfloor K-12 Solutions to build five new schools. The schools were supposed to generate more energy than they used.

Almost from the start, the deal rose a lot of questions.

For example, FirstFloor was not originally chosen for the work in 2013.

Later, members of the school board and a district legal counsel met to discuss a plan to build “energy positive schools.”

In 2014, the late school board chairman Joe DeFeo invited Firstfloor CEO Robbie Ferris to pitch his proposal for the schools.

This led to the schools district abandoning the original request for proposals despite the advice of former HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry and a consultant paid to review planning for the new schools.

A new request for proposal was issued and the guidelines seemed suspiously tailored to meet the specifications suggested by First Floor.

Britton contends FirstFloor actually contributed to the drafting of the request for quotation.

Getting information from the school district during the time discussions took place for the FirstFloor schools was often difficult and frustrating.

Under DeFeo’s leadership, the school district attempted to stonewall the press.

To her credit, Britton did comply with Freedom of Information Act requests as required. Sometimes we didn’t get the information as completely as we would have liked.

If her allegations hold water, and I suspect they do, DeFeo encouraged her to charge excessive fees to discourage the press from filing FOIA requests.

As punishment for not playing along with DeFeo, Britton was eventually moved to a different position in the school district.

She contends she was shunned and asked to resign. When she refused, the school district fired her.

It will be interesting to see how this lawsuit plays out.

Regardless of the outcome, her lawsuit shows how little our elected school board at the time cared for transparency when a lot of taxpayer money was at stake.

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