March 31, 2014

York County museum commission approves undisclosed settlement terms in lawsuit against Culture and Heritage Foundation

Five York County museum commissioners voted unanimously on Monday night to accept some parts of a settlement offer from the Culture and Heritage Foundation – a nonprofit organization being sued by the commission and the County Council.

Five York County museum commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to accept some parts of a settlement offer from the Culture and Heritage Foundation – a nonprofit organization the commission and the York County Council are suing.

A final decision on whether to drop the suit and agree to a settlement rests with York County Council members. The council is expected to discuss the settlement offer and possibly vote on the issue Thursday night.

The foundation’s board does not need to meet to vote on the settlement sent to the commission. Designees from the foundation were authorized to approve the settlement proposal during mediation last week, officials told The Herald.

County attorney Michael Kendree was with the York County Culture and Heritage Commission for about 40 minutes on Monday night, behind closed doors in executive session. Neither Kendree nor the commissioners would disclose the settlement terms on which the group voted.

Disclosure of settlement proposals before the terms are filed with the court, Kendree said, would be inappropriate under South Carolina legal rules that govern mediation between parties involved in a lawsuit. Commissioners said they would not publicly release settlement proposal details under Kendree’s advice.

The commission’s approval of the settlement proposal came “with specific changes made during executive session,” according to the motion made during the public portion of the meeting. Officials would not specify what those changes were.

Monday night’s vote comes after last week’s court-ordered mediation between county and foundation representatives, including their attorneys.

The lawsuit has been ongoing since last summer. York County has spent more than $140,000 in its legal battle.

Representatives from both sides are trying to avoid going to trial over the battle for 274 acres of donated land along the Catawba River, which is expected to be sold to a development firm for $10 million. County officials also are seeking in their suit a financial accounting of the foundation’s assets and spending over recent years.

The donated land in Fort Mill, near the intersection of Sutton Road and Interstate 77, is the remaining portion of an original 400-acre gift from Jane Spratt McColl.

Before the county filed suit, foundation officials offered to settle years of arguing by sharing the proceeds from the land with York County’s museums. The foundation also offered a few years ago to comply with the County Council’s request for an audit to be performed by a third-party accountant.

Museum Director Carey Tilley told The Herald on Monday night that he and others are “very anxious” to speak publicly about the settlement, if it happens. But he would not share details Monday, citing Kendree’s advice and respect for the mediation process.

York County, he said, will make a formal announcement about the settlement when the time is right.

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