News Archive

(0408) Week of Jan. 23, 2008

Teen's death saddens community
Middleton going before pardon board
Area precincts combined
Piedmont PSD sets new rates for rentals
Wren among finalists for Palmetto’s Finest 
Family Connection asking for assistance
Tom Allen announces for County Council
Deputies investigate thefts
Seems to Me . . .A bad feeling

Teen's death saddens community

The Pelzer-Williamston community was saddened this week by the death of Haley Taylor.

Taylor, 14, of Cannon Bottom Road, Belton, died at 11 a.m. Monday morning at Greenville Memorial Hospital from a head injury she received after falling from a golf cart last week, according to Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore. Shore said Taylor suffered a closed-head injury on Jan. 13 when she lost her balance and fell out of a golf cart she was riding in, as it rounded a corner on Evergreen Street in Williamston.

Shore stated that when paramedics arrived, she was unconscious and unresponsive in the roadway.

Taylor’s parents were at her bedside Monday morning when she was pronounced dead, Shore said.  She was an organ donor.

Taylor was a freshman at Palmetto High School and a member of the Palmetto High Chorus. She recently participated in the Miss Palmetto Class Beauty pageant.

Funeral services will be 2 p.m. Friday at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Pelzer. The family will receive friends from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Gray Mortuary in Pelzer.

Middleton going before pardon board

Former Williamston Mayor Marion Middleton, who was convicted in 2002 of embezzling $76,000 from the Town of Williamston, has again applied for a pardon.

Middleton, 78, will be considered for Pardon  Wednesday, January 30, at the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, 221 Devine St., Columbia.

Middleton submitted the first application for pardon in November 2002, just three months after he pled guilty to embezzling funds from the Town of Williamston during his term as mayor. He served 46 days of a 90 day sentence, receiving early release due to a work-credit program.

He has applied, and been denied, a pardon three times prior.

Persons requesting a pardon must complete an application, submit three letters of reference and pay a $100 application fee.

Under state requirements, Middleton could apply for a pardon once his sentence was served and full restitution was made. 

The Town of Williamston received a restitution payment of $76,000 in 2003, prior to the first pardon request.

The Williamston Town Council has addressed the issue several times in the past, but recently had the issue removed from the agenda without taking any action.

Last year, the Council approved a resolution  expressing support for the pardon of Middleton, but it had no effect in convincing the pardon board. Previous Councils went on record opposing the pardon.

The South Carolina Board of Paroles and Pardons is a seven member board, with one member from each of the state’s six congressional districts and the seventh at-large.

All are appointed by the Governor, subject to approval by the Senate. They serve six-year staggered terms and can be reappointed. 

Pardon means that an individual is fully forgiven from all the legal consequences of his or her crime and conviction – direct and collateral – including the punishment, whether imprisonment, fine, or whatever penalty is provided for by law.

According to state law, a person receiving a pardon is “fully forgiven from all the legal consequences of his crime and his conviction.” Persons pardoned may register to vote and vote, serve on a jury, hold public office, and be licensed for any occupation requiring a license.

Area precincts combined

Democratic voters will go to the polls this Saturday, January 26, to state their preference in the Democratic Presidential Preference Primary. 

Local voters should note that several Anderson County voting precincts have been combined for the Primary. Voters who normally vote at the Cedar Grove precinct will join Williamston Mill voters at the gym at Calvary Baptist Church, 10 South Academy St., Williamston.

Williamston Precinct voters will be voting at the Palmetto Middle School Auditor

Pelzer and West Pelzer voters will vote at the Pelzer Community Center Building, located behind Bi-Lo on Park St. 

Piedmont voters and Simpsonville voters will be at Shiloh United Methodist Church, 135 Reid Bagwell Ln, Piercetown and Melton precinct will vote at the Piercetown Fire Department, Hwy. 81.

Toney Creek and Friendship will vote at the Friendship Fire Station, 1938 Abercrombie Rd., Honea Path.

Piedmont PSD sets new rates for rentals

By Stan Welch

The Piedmont Fire Commission met Monday night and re-elected its Chairman and Vice Chairman to consecutive terms.

Chairman Ed Poore and vice Chairman Al McAbee were unanimously returned to their respective positions. McAbee then began the meeting by giving a report on the fire department’s activities over the last two months of 2007, and a summary of responses during the past year.

The fire department responded to 46 structure fires, 51 grass fires, 18 vehicle fires, 76 vehicle accidents, and 298 medical calls during 2007. Combined with such responses as mutual aid, service calls, sewer calls, rescues and other categories, the department responded to 618 calls during the year.

Craig Lawless, clerk to the commission, reported that Anderson County Councilman Ron Wilson had allotted $3200 for use in painting a storage shed at the ball fields as well as re-mulching the playground and replacing some picnic tables. Commissioner Marsha Rogers added that an additional $9000 in PARD funds was available but had to be spent by May or be returned to the state for redistribution. She recommended replacing the current wooden picnic tables with something more permanent, such as concrete.

Commissioner Bobby Stover said the funds needed to be used and not returned. “We need to go after every grant and every dollar we can get. If we don’t do things for Piedmont, no one else is going to. I don’t care if it’s a fence or what, we need to do something with that money.”

Lawless added that State Rep. Eric Bedingfield had obtained $15,000 in PARD funds from the Greenville County Recreation Department. Those funds will be used to repair the floor in the small gym, replace some damaged and missing gutters, smooth and level the handicap access ramp and replace two wooden exterior doors with steel doors.

The commission approved the expenditure of $3000 as a 20% match for the additional $12,000.

The commission also discussed a recent letter received from Western Carolina Regional Sewer Authority. The subject of the letter is the intergovernmental inflow and infiltration agreement that Western Carolina is trying to require several municipalities in the area to sign. Williamston, Pelzer, and West Pelzer are all studying alternatives to that agreement, citing anticipated substantial rate increases.

Piedmont Fire Chief/Administrator Tracy Wallace reported that the letter and related documents had been turned over to the Commission’s attorney. Chairman Poore told the Commission that he and Commissioner Stover, of the sewer committee, and Chief Wallace had been in discussion with Metro Sewer about that utility taking over the Commission’s lines.

“We need to provide them with some information in order for the talks to proceed.” The Commission emphatically gave their permission for any necessary information to be provided.

A proposed increase in the rates charged for the various recreational facilities sparked the liveliest discussion of the night. Following two amendments to the proposed rate structure, and an effort by Rogers to table the proposal which died for lack of a second, the following rates were adopted. The Rowell Club room and kitchen will rent for $50 an hour; the little gym, $10 an hour; the big gym, $20 an hour; the ball field, $10 an hour without lights, and $15 an hour with lights. The concession stand would rent for $10 a day. The church currently renting space in the community building will continue to pay the same rate.

The two amendments provided for a daily rate of $75 for teams holding tournaments as fund raisers, with that price including lights, and the concession stand. The second amendment requires a rental fee of $10 for four hours in order to reserve the picnic shelter for parties and birthdays.  The Commission also voted to spend $2000 to update the current policy manual for the department as well as conduct a retreat for the Commissioners to learn the duties and authorities of the commission.

The commission also heard an update on the proposed Streetscape project. Chief Wallace reported that the District’s consultant Rusty Burns had expressed his confidence that the $6000 needed to obtain the plans for the project would be forthcoming, while Greenville County Transportation Committee member Dan Rawls said that once those plans were available, securing funds for the $40,000 match for the grant would be “workable”.

Chief Wallace reported that the Fireman’s Fund had assisted 134 families, including supplying 66 food boxes by partnering with PERC. Two hundred sixty six children were helped.

In addition, the fund provided $1890 for putting up and taking down the Christmas lights, and provided another $4850 worth of gift cards to local needy families.

Wren among finalists for Palmetto’s Finest

Wren High School was among twelve South Carolina schools selected as finalists for the 2008 Carolina First Palmetto’s Finest Schools Awards. The application process includes elements on student achievement, faculty training, program goals and teaching quality, office practices, and community involvement.

“We are very excited to be named a finalist for the Palmetto’s Finest award. This is certainly a testament to the hard work and dedication of the students, staff, and parents at Wren High School. We are fortunate to have an extremely supportive district and community that supports this strong educational environment. We are proud to be recognized as one of the state’s top high schools,” stated Robbie Binnicker, Principal, Wren High School.

Last fall, South Carolina schools submitted a 20-page application and received an onsite examination visit by a review committee. The 12 finalists are now undergoing a second onsite evaluation.

The finalist schools will gather in Columbia on Monday, March 3, at the Koger Center for the Arts, at 6:30 p.m to learn which four of them have won the top honors. The coveted awards, sponsored by Carolina First Bank and the SC Association of School Administrators (SCASA), are presented each year to two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school.

The 12 finalists are as follows: Aiken Elementary, Aiken County; Buffalo Elementary, Union County; Killian Elementary, Richland 2; Lake Carolina Elementary, Richland 2; McDonald Elementary, Georgetown County; Pate Elementary, Darlington County; Lugoff-Elgin Middle, Kershaw County; Riverside Middle, Anderson 4; Central High, Chesterfield County; Greenville Technical Charter, Greenville County; Waccamaw High, Georgetown County and Wren High, Anderson 1.

“This is a very competitive award, and it’s an honor to be among the finalists. Carolina First Bank is delighted to help recognize these high-achieving schools,” said Mack Whittle, CEO of Carolina First Bank.

The SC Association of School Administrators (SCASA) and Carolina First Bank present the awards each year to two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school which offer the best in innovative, effective educational programs. This year the Carolina First Palmetto’s Finest Award is celebrating its 30th year anniversary and is one of the most coveted and respected awards among educators.

“We’re pleased once again to partner with Carolina First Bank to offer this recognition for effective and innovative schools,” said Molly Spearman, SCASA executive director. “Carolina First’s support validates the importance of quality education for South Carolina’s young people.”

Other partners for the 2008 awards include Promethean, Inc., which will give an electronic classroom outfit to each of the four winning schools; Data Recognition Corporation, which is sponsoring a leadership reception.

SCASA is the professional organization for school leaders in South Carolina, with a membership of more than 2,900.  From professional development opportunities and research, to publications and legislative advocacy, SCASA’s focus is to support school leaders in providing the best possible education for South Carolina’s young people.  As a state affiliate of three national associations for school leaders, SCASA also works on the national level.

Family Connection asking for assistance

By Stan Welch

The organization Family Connection is seeking local assistance in providing medical equipment to those in need. 

The local chapter of the statewide support program, founded in 1990 by parents of children with disabilities and special needs, took over the Loaner Closet program of the Easter Seals when they moved into the building at 104 Ella Street last February. At the time, there were 26 wheel chairs available for loan.

“Today, we have none on hand,” said Family Connections director Sherry Fields. “We have a tremendous need for chairs because so many people in this area are in need, and are uninsured to the extent of receiving such equipment from other sources.”

Family Connection is a non-profit group that offers parent to parent support for those with children who are disabled or have special needs. Funded by private donations and some grant funds, the group is statewide. “We are all parents of special children. But we provide wheelchairs and walkers and crutches to whoever needs them, regardless of age. All they have to do is fill out an application and sign a waiver of release. We recycle the equipment, asking that when the client no longer needs it that they return it for another to use.”

Fields has an eighteen year old daughter, Amanda, who suffers from spinal bifida, hydrocephaly and epilepsy.  Amanda has had more than eighty operations. “She is so sweet and so bright. She never meets a stranger. Family Connection has always been there for Amanda and me. We want to always be able to help those who often seem to be facing insurmountable problems. To be able to provide a wheelchair or a walker seems like such a small thing, but it makes so many lives so much easier,” said Fields.

The organization also offers support for siblings of those afflicted, as well as support groups for spouses. “Divorce rates for couples with special needs or disabled children run above eighty per cent. These are broken families that can least stand to be broken. The challenges are real and they are serious.”

Aside from the usual medical equipment, Fields also has a beach buggy available for those who are going to the beach on vacation. It is an all terrain device that allows the transport of the child out onto the sand and beach. “We hope to purchase a second one of those this year. They are very popular because the beach poses real problems for conventional wheeled devices. “

Fields says she will soon be approaching the Williamston Town Council for permission and assistance in staging the organization’s annual Amazing Ride for Amazing Children, an annual fund raising event which they held last year at the Mineral Spring Park. “It was a big success and we hope to make it even larger this year. We’re going to move it to May because last year, the June date was so hot. Also, May is Disability Awareness Month and we want to create awareness of these issues.”

Those wishing to make a tax deductible donation of money or equipment can reach Fields at 864-231-8100 or 221-1672. Her e-mail is sherryfields@familyconnectionsc.org.

Tom Allen announces for County Council seat

By Stan Welch

District Four County Council incumbent Bill McAbee will face at least one challenger for the seat in the Republican primary. 

Given the controversy and acrimony generated on Council this past year, the presence of a challenge isn’t surprising. The fact that the challenger, Tom Allen, is a member of the executive committee of the Anderson County Republican Party is something of a surprise however.

Allen says not to make too much of it, however. “This is not about personalities. In fact, I see far too much personality involved in the County Council as it is. There’s so much personality conflict going on that the people’s business is suffering. I simply think there are some things I can offer in terms of emphasis and skills that I think will serve the people of Anderson County and District Four more effectively.”

Allen, who has a Masters degree, is a veteran of both the U.S. Air Force, which he was in during the Viet Nam War, and later the U.S. Army, from which he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, during the downsizing of the U.S. military during the Clinton administration. “I loved the military and would still be in today if not for the reduction of the armed forces during the 90’s.”

He served on the Anderson County School Board from 2002-2006 and is currently serving on the Water Resources Advisory Council, tasked to protect South Carolina’s interests in terms of its water supply. Currently employed at Home Depot, Allen is active in local politics, serving on the executive committee of the County Republican Party, and attending most Council meetings. Much of what he sees disturbs him. “I don’t understand why the financial information is so closely held by the administration. I believe in open government and would support an audit. At this stage, we really don’t know where our money is going or how it’s being spent. We just know that every year, taxes and fees go up. Where is all this economic development that is supposed to help create new revenues? It’s certainly not in District Four. Our Councilman seems more engaged in District Three’s efforts than his own district.”

Allen says that he would also review the structure of the County’s administration, with an eye towards efficiency. “Can we reduce the size of the government and maintain a respectable level of service? I think we have to at least look at it. I think we need to reallocate our resources to provide the kind of infrastructure that will attract economic development. We have many people in this county who have suffered from the fate of the textile industry. They are willing and able to work and we should make that resource known to companies across the country. Are we targeting states like Illinois and Pennsylvania and Michigan, and letting them know what a great resource Anderson County is? We have quality of life, a somewhat rural life style, and only minutes away, all the amenities of Greenville. We should take more pride in being Anderson County and spend less time and money trying to be Greenville County.”

Allen says he would promote no new fees or taxes. “We should be generating additional revenue without continuing to plunder the taxpayer’s pockets at every turn. Real efficiency and effective economic development efforts are essential in helping reduce the need for more taxes and fees.”

(Editor’s note: Allen wrote a weekly column of political and historical commentary for The Journal from 2003-2005.)

Deputies investigate thefts

Anderson County Sheriff’s Deputies investigated thefts and other incidents. Among incidents investigated:

PELZER

Jan 16 – M.J. McClatchy responded to 119 Osteen Hill Road where Derek Rhodes reported being sent threatening messages over the internet. No arrest was made, but the incident was reported to establish a public record.

Jan. 16 – P. D. Marter was dispatched to 564 Old River Rd. where Lewis Upchurch reported the theft of a Coleman generator from his garage. The generator was valued at $700.

Jan. 16 – K.D. Pigman was on patrol when he saw a white Ford Taurus turn onto Hwy. 8 from Hwy. 81. He saw that the vehicle had no license tag and initiated a traffic stop. The driver, Ronald Wood, WM, 49, 5’6", 150 pounds, brn/grn, of Fair Play, was found to have an active warrant from Pickens County. He was placed into custody. Reports state a subsequent search of the vehicle revealed a meth pipe, .6 of a gram of a white crystal substance, and a larger bag of marijuana. He was charged with those offenses and transported to ACDC.

Jan. 17 – P.D. Marter responded to 111 Hinson Rd. where Tony Brown reported the theft of several items from an open shed on the property.

PIEDMONT

 Jan. 16 – S.E. Rushton responded to the Save-Way on Hwy. 86 where the clerk reported that someone in a newer model gold Chevrolet Impala had driven off with $53.45 in gasoline.

Jan.  16 – T.B. Dugan received a report of criminal sexual conduct with a minor from the mother of a seven year old girl. Both the victim and the alleged subject are juveniles, so no further information was released to the media, in accordance with state law.

Jan. 16 – T.B. Dugan responded to 803 Iler St. where Jason Gary reported that his 1986 Chevrolet Silverado had been stolen. The vehicle displayed SC tag #553-SHD. The vehicle was valued at $2000.

Seems to Me . . . A bad feeling

By Stan Welch

Have you ever had the feeling that something bad was going to happen and there was nothing you could do to stop it?

That’s exactly the feeling I have about the hearing that is scheduled for this Wednesday before the South Carolina Supreme Court. You know, the hearing on County Councilwoman Cindy Wilson’s writ of mandamus lawsuit, which she filed almost two years ago trying to force county administrator Joey Preston to release financial records of the County?

She filed that suit after three or four years of less litigious efforts to obtain that information. During those years, Preston’s persistent claim that information concerning the legal vendor files of the County is privileged somehow expanded to offer protection for such clearly public information as routine financial records and credit card account information.

Having followed this issue closely for three years now, and having studied the history of the issue prior to my arrival in Anderson County, I have a very bad feeling that what should proceed from that hearing, and the Supreme Court’s subsequent ruling, is not going to proceed. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s a single shred of legal support or logic for the idea that such records should not be made public. I just can’t shake the feeling that justice may not prevail in this instance.

The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, with more than twenty five years’ precedence behind it, clearly defines, to most minds, such records as public. But in this case, as in so many others, the law fails to accomplish what simple common sense makes plain.

The two year delay in the writ of mandamus suit, a legal device designed to accelerate a decision in a given situation, is my first cause for concern. This issue should have been decided by the first judge to hear it.

Another reason I am less than optimistic is because I fear the lawyers employed by Preston, on behalf of the County and at the County’s expense, of course, have managed to frame the issue so closely, so tightly, that it could be ruled upon in a manner contrary to common sense. Imagine – a major legal issue decided in a manner contrary to common sense! Who would ever think it?

In fact, this entire case reflects a complete failure of common sense, not just in a moment of poor judgment, but over the course of years – years during which tens of thousands of dollars of the public’s money has been squandered. That situation resulted as much from Preston’s success in persuading the Council which originally hired him to place control of public information in his hands as it did from Wilson’s request some four years after Preston assumed control.

During the same time, tens of thousands of dollars of Councilwoman Wilson’s money has followed it down the rabbit hole that marks this entrance into the parallel universe known as Wonderland.

So stunningly absent has common sense been throughout the entire saga that three different Councils have refused to settle the issue by a simple majority vote which Preston says he would have obeyed by releasing the information.

That claim, though especially laughable in light of his record of manipulating the various Councils which have supported his claim of privilege, rings untrue. The performance of the Preston administration in complying with FOIA requests from sources other than Ms. Wilson betrays his position that he is defending some noble legal principle, rather than striving to choke off the flow of information concerning the workings of his apparatus.

So egregious and flagrant are his efforts and his methods of denying access to information that the otherwise irresponsible rumors of fiscal shenanigans become credible based simply on the amount of energy spent in keeping those transactions from public view.

He has on more than one occasion arranged ambushes for those seeking to obtain information, bringing in third parties to challenge those seeking the information as to their purpose and motives. Neither of those matters are concerned with the providing of public information. They are purely exercises in intimidation, a tactic no public administrator has any business employing, or even considering.

According to reports, a television reporter from WSPA TV7 news is the most recent target of such intimidating and obstructionist efforts. 

Arriving to review credit card account information he had sought under the SCFOIA, this reporter was allegedly treated to classic Preston public information procedures. Piles of records were provided instead of the specific items requested. He was told by county employees that he could look for what he wanted, since that was his job and not theirs.

According to my source, he was denied the opportunity to make copies, a clear violation of the law.

Recently, then County Council Chairman Bob Waldrep sought access to credit card records for the last five years. He was informed that the cost of making such records available would be $5000. Others, including myself, have routinely been told that their requests would require hundreds if not thousands, of dollars to process.

In recent months, every FOIA request made to the County has first been reviewed by a McNair lawyer, presumably at their standard hourly rate, before being responded to.

Does this sound like an administration committed to the spirit, much less the letter, of the law? 

Joey Preston has long been a source of contention and controversy in Anderson County, due to both his personal conduct and his professional performance. The debate over those issues can and will continue to rage. But his persistent and arrogant refusal to comply with the full scope of the Freedom of Information Act, and his employment of legal counsel whose allegiance is to him and not the County, should be reason enough for his termination.

Of course, it seems to me terminating someone who hasn’t even undergone an annual job review in over five years promises to be difficult, especially when his contract was crafted by some of the same lawyers who are paid with public funds controlled by Preston.

Almost makes you want to see the records, doesn’t it? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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