Skip Hoagland was asked to leave City Council chambers Thursday night
After being escorted from a Charleston City Council meeting against his will, a fiery transparency advocate is suing the mayor of Charleston, the city, and the local police for allegedly violating his free speech, breaking state transparency law, and conspiracy.
"My name is Skip Hoagland from Hilton Head, South Carolina, and I am here to help you," Hoagland said as he began to address Mayor John Tecklenburg and City Council on the evening of May 24. With a box full of "important docs" that he claimed demonstrated accommodations tax corruption among the state's various destination marketing organizations, Hoagland launched into a prepared statement that would spur his removal from the building.
Calling for a forensic audit of the Charleston Area Conventions and Visitors Bureau, Hoagland voiced allegations regarding the CVB's executive director, claiming, "Numbers don't lie. Helen Hill lies." At that point, Tecklenburg declared Hoagland out of order.
Following a brief exchange, Hoagland was led out of City Council chambers by police officers, including Chief Luther Reynolds, for allegedly violating the city's rules of decorum. With the lawsuit, filed on July 9, the former businessman has now taken legal action against the mayor and the city for his expulsion from City Hall that evening. (See the full filing below.)
"At the time the defendants took physical possession of the plaintiff's person and forcibly removed him from a City Council meeting and the entire building," Hoagland alleges in his complaint, "the plaintiff was exercising his First Amendment right to speak to the government about evidence of fraud, conversion, theft, and waste of millions of taxpayers' dollars, which can never be considered a 'breach of the peace' or 'disorderly conduct.'"
Video of Hoagland's removal from the May 24 council meeting:
Hoagland's complaint touches on territory similar to his previous courtroom venture that reached all the way to the South Carolina Supreme Court. In May, Hoagland's legal victory over the Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce was overturned when state justices reversed a lower court's decision, ruling that private organizations entrusted with millions in tax revenue collected from local residents to promote tourism are not subject to public information requests. Hoagland was previously removed from a meeting of the Bluffton Town Council in 2015.
Undaunted, Hoagland's latest suit seems to assert that Charleston Area CVB leader Helen Hill is not protected by City Council's rules of decorum. Following Hoagland's initial ouster from council chambers, city spokesman Jack O'Toole told the City Paper that Hill was not a public figure and "Personal attacks on everyday citizens are a violation of rules of decorum and should be called down."
Hoagland's lawsuit challenges the assertion that the mayor and police were merely protecting a private citizen, alleging that as he "attempted to speak and present evidence of improper and fraudulent use of taxpayer money, the defendants combined and joined in for the illegal purpose of censoring the plaintiff and preventing him from presenting evidence of improper and unlawful use of public money."
When contacted about the latest suit on Wednesday, city staff said the suit was referred to the city legal department, but offered no comment.