In an email obtained through FOIA by a concerned citizen, Palmetto State Watch was alerted to the recent email exchange between Richland County Economic Development Director Jeff Ruble and the Department of Commerce.
Since Scout Motors’ unexpected move into South Carolina in March, residents of Blythewood have been concerned with the extremely fast-paced development on over 1600 acres of land and wetlands. Residents did not get any say in this huge decision that will change the small town of Blythewood permanently. When they raised concerns, these residents were ignored by the local government, state government, state agencies, and the company itself. Due to the egregious lack of transparency, some residents started doing their own digging into the truth of this project. They created a Facebook page called BWScout, where concerned citizens could join and share their information/thoughts on the happenings of the Scout project.
As uncovered through one of their FOIAs, the Richland County Economic Development Office took notice of residential involvement and created a weekly “listening” report. This “report” is a clear blacklist of residents that the department has deemed “vocal opponents” and includes the posts AND comments of several residents and even a state legislator. The Richland County Economic Development Office (RCED) has circulated this report to other state agencies, law enforcement, departments, and members of the general assembly. Can you imagine that the RCED is so threatened by transparency and community involvement that they have to alert the “authorities” on citizens that they are directly impacting? It gets worse.
In an email to the RCED, NP Strategy (a public relations firm) sends the “listening report” to RCED Director Jeff Ruble and others in the office. After a quick browse, I uncovered that Richland County pays a lot of money to NP Strategy. During the month of June, when NP Strategy was creating these blacklists for the RCED, Richland County paid the public relations firm $10,000 on June 14, 2023 and $10,350 on June 28, 2023.
Can you imagine a county office paying a firm tens of thousands of dollars to stalk small town residents and collect their information every week in a report that is circulated around the state? What is Jeff Ruble so scared of? Transparency?
Jeff Ruble forwards this email to the Department of Commerce and writes, “FYI. Check the Facebook page – we’ve got a house member involved now. Through an intermediary, he asked for a tour of the site but I shut that down quickly.”
Wait a second. Ruble is bragging about ‘shutting down’ a legislator ‘quickly’? What are these state agencies and Scout Motors trying to hide? Why aren’t they letting anyone view the Scout site? Well, they are blocking everyone but Governor McMaster and Scout Motors CEO Scott Keogh who visited the site a couple weeks ago for a PR campaign as we reported in our last article. It’s a little too late, because the government, state agencies, and Scout Motors have created a PR nightmare.
All of this seems odd, especially when you compare it to the recent halt on construction just last week. Coincidentally, Scout Motors has apparently been working without permits on FEMA flood zones and wetlands! This halt came less than ONE DAY after citizens raised numerous concerns at the Blythewood Planning Commission meeting, which was supposed to be livestreamed to the public. However, the Town of Blythewood deleted several comments on the video and even cut the mics of concerned resident Charles Bayne when he called out the town for turning a blind eye to possible future poisoning to the community if Scout Motors continues to abuse the wetlands and the water system. Not all is lost, though. You can watch our raw videos several citizens, including a former mayor, holding the planning commission accountable here.
This is why public involvement is so crucial. While Richland County may be panicking over a few community members, their time of playing Big Brother is over. It is time for them to be held accountable. The more you push, the weaker they become. Get involved. Demand transparency. And whatever you do, don’t back down.