News Archive

(0508) Week of Jan. 30, 2008

School Board approves calendar, architectural design firms
Firms chosen to provide building program designs
Brookdale Park sees improvements
Middleton denied pardon
West Pelzer Planning Commission meets
Wren among finalists for Palmetto’s Finest
Obama takes county, state in Democratic primary 
Hillary Clinton visits Anderson
Supreme Court hears arguments in County case
Drawdy says Solicitor position can be improved
Thieves strike homes, businesses
Seems to Me . . . It will take more than a writ of mandamus to get these answers

School Board approves calendar, architectural design firms

Anderson School District One Board of Trustees adopted the 2008-2009 school calendar and approved two architectural firms to begin preliminary work on designs related to a building program being proposed for the District.

The building program will be presented for public approval in a bond referendum on March 18. (See separate story)

Acting on the recommendation of Superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler, the Board approved hiring the architectural firms MBAJ, of Shelby, N. C. and Craig Gaulden Davis, of Greenville, S. C., to provide preliminary designs for renovations and work on the District’s proposed building program.

Dr. Fowler recommended approval of two firms based on two design packages.

He said that two firms were chosen out of six that interviewed based on the timeline needed to get the preliminary design  work done prior to the referendum.

Package one, which includes a new Powdersville High School; six new classrooms, a multipurpose facility and cafeteria expansion at Palmetto High; and a new multipurpose facility and track at Wren High School, will be  designed by MBAJ. Total budgeted cost for these projects is $55,970,000.

Package two, which includes new classrooms, expansion and renovation work planned for each of the District’s middle and elementary schools including Cedar Grove, Palmetto, Wren and Spearman Elementary; Concrete Primary; Palmetto, Wren and Powdersville Middle, will go to Craig Gaulden Davis. The budgeted cost is $29,280,000.

Security upgrades at Hunt Meadows, Powdersville Elementary, Pelzer and West Pelzer Elementary and auditorium repair at Pelzer Elementary have already been procured by the District at a budgeted cost of $500,000.

The board unanimously approved the 2008-2009 school calendar, which is very similar to the calendar adopted County wide last year. The calendar has an Aug. 19 start date, according to Dr. Fowler.

Associate Superintendent David Havird reported that the nutritional program showed a $3,952 profit for December and a $50,082 year to date profit. Expenditures for equipment, $17,000 and computers for point of sale system, another $17,000.

Principals Debra Gill, of Powdersville Middle School and Dr. Mason Gary, of Palmetto High School, were recognized during the meeting as Silver Award Recipients. Powdersville Middle was awarded a $5513 grant and Palmetto High received $12,300. The prinicpals were presented a certificate and flag sent by State Superintendent Jim Rex, according to Dr. Fowler.

Director of Elementary Education Jane Harrison said the awards were a reflection of the principals and teachers at the two schools “thinking outside the box.” She said the improvement ratings at both schools were key in receiving the awards and that “they are doing some great things.”

The board also approved the following personnel recommendations:

Leave of absence - Paige Mitchell, Wren Elementary School, Grade 3; Rebecca Drayton, Powdersville Middle School, Grade 7.

Resignation - Ryan Panter, Wren High School, Physical Education.

Recommendation - Brandon Brown, Palmetto Middle School, Physical Education.

District One Administration - David Havird, Associate Superintendent; Brian Barnard, Director of Maintenance; Becky Brady, Director of Personnel and Testing; Andria Hancock, Director of Technology;  Jane Harrison, Director of Elementary Education; Debbie Joye, Director of Nutrition Services; Dr. Brian Keith, Director of Special Services; Dr. John Pruitt, Director of Secondary Education; Steve Uldrick, Director of Finance.

Firms chosen to provide building program designs

The Anderson School District One Board of Trustees chose  two architectural firms Tuesday to provide preliminary designs for a new Powdersville High School and other renovations and work proposed for buildings across the District.

The designs will be presented to the public along with information on the District’s proposed building program prior to a March 18 bond referendum.

The two firms were recommended by Superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler after an interview process with six firms.

Each of the two firms selected by the Board was awarded a design package that includes different aspects of the building program, according to Dr. Fowler.

Fowler said that two firms were needed based on the timeline necessary to get the preliminary design  work done prior to the referendum.

The architectural firm of MBAJ, of Shelby, N. C., will provide designs for Package One, which includes a new Powdersville high school;  a multipurpose facility and track at Wren High School and  renovations and expansion at Palmetto High. Work at Palmetto will include six new classrooms, a multipurpose facility and cafeteria expansion. Total budgeted cost for package one is $55,970,000.

Designs for Package Two, which includes new classrooms, expansions and renovation work for each of the District’s middle and elementary schools, will be provided by Craig Gaulden Davis of Greenville, S. C.

Renovations and expansions proposed in the building program include new classrooms, cafeteria expansions and lobby renovations at Cedar Grove Elementary, Palmetto Elementary and Wren Elementary.

Palmetto Middle and Wren Middle will get new classrooms and renovations. Concrete Primary will see new classrooms, a  new kitchen and a cafeteria expansion. Spearman Elementary will get new classrooms, new kitchen/cafeteria and additional restrooms. Powdersville Middle will have 8 new classrooms added. Total budgeted cost for package two is $29,280,000.

Security upgrades at Hunt Meadows Elementary, Powdersville Elementary, Pelzer Elementary and West Pelzer Elementary and auditorium repair at Pelzer Elementary have already been procured by the District at a budgeted cost of $500,000.

Total cost of the proposed building program is estimated at $85,750,000.

According to Associate  Superintendent David Havird, the entire building program is pending approval of the bond referendum by the public in March.

Havird said the drawings presented by the two architectural firms will be preliminary and will be used in brochures and other information presented to the public over the next few weeks.

He said the renderings will allow parents and others to see what they will vote for.

District One officials are currently meeting with School improvement councils, parents, faculty and staff across the District to present the program and to answer questions.

He said they are willing to meet with any group, church or organization that may want to know more about the proposed building program.

Growth in the District is the primary reason for the building program, according to school officials.

Many of the District schools are already operating above their intended capacity and the District is looking at the need for additional portables at several schools.

Projected tax impact on a $75,000 home is $52.50 per year. On a $100,000 home, $70 per year. On a $125,000 home, the projected tax impact will be $87.50 per year and on a $150,000 home, $105 per year.

Wording for the referendum is as follows:

Shall the Board of Trustees of School District No. 1 of Anderson County, South Carolina, (the “School District”) be empowered to issue, at one time or from time to time, general obligation bonds of the School District, in a principal amount of not exceeding $85,750,000, the proceeds of which shall be used to finance the cost of constructing, improving, equipping, expanding, renovating and repairing school facilities and constructing and equipping a new Powdersvile High School within the School District.

Voter will have the option of voting in favor of the question/yes or Opposed to the question / no.

The bond referendum on the proposed building project will be held on Tuesday, March 18 from 7 a.m to 7 p.m.

Brookdale Park sees improvements

Brookdale Park in Williamston recently had improvements including new playgound equipment and other items to improve use and safety in the community park.

New equipment recently installed includes a  swing set with six swings, a climbing tower and slide, mulch and a plastic container outlining the playground area. The park also received new trash cans, a table, two park benches and a new flag pole.

Additional work planned for the park includes having Duke Energy install a new halogen light for better lighting of the playground area at night and repairs to a park shelter. Some work has been done on the shelter already and it will receive a new roof.

Cost of the playgound equipment was $25,717, which was funded through a $20,000 PARD grant and a $5,717 match from the town funded by the town’s recently implemented hospitality tax.

Senator Billy O’Dell and House Rep. Dan Cooper were instrumental in getting the PARD grant. Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said the project “is evidence of the hospitality tax going back into the community.”

According to Clardy, funds from the hospitality tax, implemented in June of last year on prepared food sold in the Town of Williamston, will be used for similar recreation and tourism related projects in the town.

Councilman Carthel Crout, who represents Ward One in which Brookdale Park lies, said the town is striving to do the same things at Brookdale that are being done in the town’s Mineral Spring Park.

In preparation of the park improvements, community volunteers including Walter Smith and volunteers from Valleybrook Outreach Baptist Church began cleanup in the park area last fall. Members of the Mission Jerusalem team have also helped with work in both of the Town’s parks.

Additional improvements planned for the park include resurfacing of the basketball courts and planting of new trees to provide additional shade, according to Parks Director Dale Martin. The basketball goals will also be painted. New “double rims” were recently installed on the four goals.

Middleton denied pardon

Former Williamston Mayor Marion Middleton went before the Pardon and Parole Board today (Wednesday) at the South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services, in  Columbia where he was again denied a pardon. It was his  fourth time appearing before the board.

Middleton submitted his 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.

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.

West Pelzer Planning Commission meets
Mobile home replacement unlikely

The West Pelzer Planning commission met Tuesday night and briefly reviewed the Town’s mobile home ordinance. A proposal by a citizen on Spring Street to replace an aged mobile home with a single unit dwelling seemed unlikely to receive approval since the mobile home is currently sharing water and sewer service with the existing home on the lot.

They also discussed a review of the other ordinances. Chairwoman Linda Lozano said it seemed as if such a review would be more appropriately conducted by the Council and Mayor.

A proposed survey of the Town’s citizens to determine their goals and desires for the Town in upcoming years was also discussed. Mayor Peggy Paxton said she would get a new survey ready, according to the minutes of the November 2007 meeting. The survey was not available Tuesday night.

“Since we really can’t do anything without the survey, we may as well adjourn,” said Lazano. “I’ll let you know if we’re going to meet next time, since we still need the survey to proceed.”

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.

Obama takes county, state in Democratic primary

The Democratic Presidential Primary resulted in a statewide landslide win for Sen. Barack  Obama, as he nearly doubled the number of votes received by Sen. Hillary Clinton, and tripled those received by former Senator and South Carolina native John Edwards.

While Obama clearly dominated the state, fueled by a large turnout of black voters, especially in the lower part of the state, his performance, while still impressive, was much less domineering in Anderson County.

According to figures released by the Anderson County Democratic Party, Sen. Obama received  a solid 36.05 per cent of the vote, tallying a total of 6,253 votes. The figures were unofficial, with 97.53% of the 81 precincts voted. While unofficial, the figures made it clear that only an extraordinary event would make it possible for either of the other two significant candidates to overtake Obama.

Edwards actually squeezed past Sen. Clinton to claim second place, with 5582 votes, for 32.19% of those voting. Clinton, with 5459 votes, netted 31.48 % of the vote, leaving a hodgepodge of failed candidates to share less than one half of a per cent of the overall vote. Several of those candidates received votes in the single digits.

Democratic optimism over the relatively large turnout statewide seems not to account for the fact that the primary was open, with Republicans and independents allowed to vote. How many votes were cast by non-Democrats in order to sway the Party’s choice will remain unknown until November.

Oddly enough, Dennis Kucinich, who claims to have seen UFOs, received more votes than two other candidates.

Hillary Clinton visits Anderson

Anderson County Councilwoman Gracie Floyd (center) recently introduced U. S. Senator Hillary Clinton to a crowd of more than 600 people at the Anderson County Civic Center. Clinton made Anderson one of her last stops in South Carolina as she campaigned before the state’s Democratic presidential primary. Dr. Brenna Walker (right) also participated in the introduction.

Supreme Court hears arguments in County case

By Stan Welch

The South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments last week on a writ of mandamus lawsuit brought by Councilwoman Cindy Wilson against county administrator Joey Preston.

The issues brought before the Court centered around which aspects of legal matters are protected by attorney/client privilege, and who holds that privilege on behalf of the County. Also at issue was the matter of how and when public information concerning the County’s financial records should be provided.A group of concerned citizens attended, as did a handful of County employees. District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson was on hand to hear her attorney, Jay Bender, argue his case, while county administrator Joey Preston and Council Chairman Michael Thompson were also on hand to hear Randall Moody argue Preston’s case.

The Supreme Court was asked to decide whether to issue a writ of mandamus to force Preston to release certain information about the County’s legal vendor files, as well as routine financial reports generated by the County, and required by County ordinance.

Bender began by calling the case “remarkable”. “We have an employee trying to control access to public information. He claims to be the executive branch of the Anderson County government.”

Moody countered that the Court lacked the authority to intervene, saying that it would be imposing on the power of government. He later cited a vote of the County Council on Oct. 5, 2004 which authorized Preston to prioritize the manner in which he did his job. One of his lower priorities is the providing of public information.

Chief Justice Jean Toal apparently agreed, saying that she saw the issue as a political one, to be resolved in a political manner. “I have to ask whether this Court has the authority to get in the middle of what appears to be a political squabble. If Council has passed legislation establishing this authority, perhaps Council should be the ones being sued?”

Justice Robert Beatty clearly saw both Wilson and Bender’s point. “This Council has no authority to minimize or neutralize one of its members. If a member needs information for a meeting two weeks away, how can this employee deny them that information for three months? No employee should be able to tell an employer what the schedule of events will be.”

The case has dragged on for more than five years, and has cost both Anderson County and Ms. Wilson tens of thousands of dollars. At issue is who controls access to public information in Anderson County.

Wilson claims that Preston has consistently delayed and denied her access to county financial records, as well as legal vendor files. Preston counters by referring to the ordinance passed by County Council in 2004 which authorized him to set his own priorities in performing his duties. His attorney argued that Preston has properly exercised that authority, and has given Wilson the information asked for, simply not at a pace she finds acceptable. Wilson has consistently argued that she never receives complete information and often receives too late to be of any use in performing her duties as a Council member.

After the hearing, Wilson said that she is hopeful the Justices will do the right thing. “If this writ is not issued, then we’re right back to square one. How many times and how many different ways can I ask for this information? Yet it continues to be denied. I simply cannot believe that a hired bureaucrat can continue to deny to an elected official the information that official needs to perform their duty.”

Preston told reporters that the case was an important one to the Council/administrator form of government. “This case can establish the fact that an administrator works for the entire council and not one member in particular.”

There is no word on when the Supreme Court’s ruling will be handed down.

Drawdy says Solicitor position can be improved

By Stan Welch

Sarah Drawdy is a candidate for the 10th circuit Solicitor. She has strong ideas on how the performance and efficiency of that office, now run by Solicitor Chrissy Adams, can be improved.

The first thing she would change is the fact that Adams, since being elected solicitor in 2006, hasn’t tried a single case. “Ms. Adams has tried less than a half dozen cases in Circuit 10 since she came to work for Druanne White. None of those have been tried since she was elected Solicitor.”

Drawdy, who also worked for White until Adams defeated her for the office, says her promise to the people of the Tenth Circuit is that she will try cases. “I know you can’t try every single case, but you can’t plea bargain every case either,” said Drawdy, in a recent interview with The Journal. “But there are some crimes, some situations that demand a trial, that can’t just  be settled with a plea bargain. Victims of crimes deserve a sense that justice is being served and not just cases being moved.”

Drawdy, who also worked in the Seventh Circuit until last fall, when she resigned to begin her campaign, points to a case that was settled during the last year. During the Anderson Christmas parade in 2006, David Allen Rodgers, of Anderson, was pulling a float in the parade. He suddenly sped away from the rest of the parade, “traveling at a high rate of speed and driving recklessly”, according to the warrant issued for his arrest. A second warrant, issued for unlawful conduct towards a child, due to the fact that Rodgers had his own daughter in the truck with him, cited Rodgers for being under the influence at the time of the incident.

Subsequently,  a grand jury returned indictments against Rodgers for eighteen counts of kidnapping, as well as the unlawful conduct charge. He was also charged with eighteen counts of assault of a high and aggravated nature. The kidnapping charges were dropped, in light of the fact he was facing a possible 180 years in prison on the AHAN charges. The unlawful conduct charge was dropped also, apparently because his wife and daughter chose not to press charges, according to court documents

“Faced with a possible total of 180 years in jail, do you know what this man received?” asked Drawdy. “He received six years with the requirement for ninety days actual time served. Upon serving that sentence, the remainder of the term would be reduced to probation. So, the Solicitor had a possibility of 180 years and she didn’t even get one. This man endangered eighteen people on the float and who knows how many more on the streets of Anderson.”

When contacted for a comment, Solicitor Adams called the case “old news”, although the plea was accepted in early December of last year, one year to the day from the date of the incident.

“The media was present at the plea hearing. All the victims and law enforcement were contacted and were involved in the case from the beginning. Some victims made statements at the hearing. The defendant pled guilty to numerous charges. My office recommended a sentence and Judge Cordell Maddox sentenced him. I can’t imagine any questions arising. It seems Ms. Drawdy, who is running against me, is trying to cause smoke where there is no fire,” continued Adams.

Drawdy does not base her campaign on one issue, however, It is the overall operation of the office that she challenges. She wonders why there is no check court in place to reduce the demands that the current method of handling bad checks places on the law enforcement and court system.

“Check court is a no-brainer. It takes the load off of the merchants who receive these checks and off the deputies who have to spend valuable time and resources pursuing these checks. A secretary in the Solicitor’s office receives the complaints from the merchants and issues a letter to the offender explaining that they can come in and redeem the check, along with paying the bank charge for processing the check, as well as the court fine involved. Or a warrant can be issued and they can be brought into court to face a magistrate. Believe me, the vast majority can’t get down to the office fast enough to make those checks good. This program in Spartanburg County not only pays for itself but generates several hundred thousands of dollars for the county each year.”

But it is Adams’ perceived failure to set an aggressive tone for her staff that Drawdy returns to again and again. “The defense bar in the Circuit knows that this willingness to drop charges and to plea down on virtually everything, trickles down to the staff. So they wait the court and the Solicitor out. They delay and they stall and soon, a serious charge like assault with intent to kill becomes simple assault, or felony charges become misdemeanor charges. If I am elected Solicitor, I promise you that my staff, with me in the courtroom, will bring a new aggressiveness to the Tenth Circuit Solicitor’s Office.”

Thieves strike homes, businesses

BELTON

Jan. 25 – M.A. Whitfield responded to 1001 Bell Rd. where James Chapman reported the theft of a SC license tag from his vehicle. The tag was # 553MBY.

PELZER

Jan.22 – M.J. McClatchy responded to 23 Goodrich St. in response to a reported civil dispute. Upon arriving he checked the involved parties for warrants and found that Crystal Smith, WF, 29, 5’3", 280 pounds, rd/brn was wanted by both the ACSO and the GCSO. She was taken into custody and transported to ACDC.

Jan. 22 – K.D. Pigman responded to the Bi-Lo on Lebby St. where Jimmy Thompson reported that a white male approximately 5’9" with an average build and light hair had stolen four packs of meat valued at $40. He left in a green Ford Explorer.

Jan. 23 – T.B. Dugan responded to Lot 12 on Burkett St. where he confirmed a report from Mississippi that a car stolen there was at that location. The vehicle was recovered and taken to a secure location.

Jan. 25 – P.D. Marter was dispatched to Lima Auto Sales at 6930 Hwy. 29 where Jay Cartwright, the owner of the business, reported that two vehicles had been broken into and a GPS unit and CD player valued at $850 had been taken.

Jan. 27 – P. D. Marter responded to 225 Looper Rd. where William Bryant Sr. reported that forced entry had been made into his home. Various items valued at more than $1000 were taken.

Jan. 27 – M.A. Whitfield responded to 26 River St. where Patrick Cain reported the theft of SC tag # 277 5DN from his truck.

PIEDMONT

Jan. 23 – R.D. Smith was dispatched to 10830 Anderson Rd. where James Wiseman reported that someone had stolen his Henderson Lawn Trailer valued at $600.

Jan.23 – J. Elrod responded to 9708 Anderson Rd. where he reported the theft of four batteries, two radiators, and 2 rolls of copper tubing, with a total value of $1600.

Jan. 25 – W.B. Simpson responded to 108 Terry Lee Dr. where Randall Coster reported that his son, Matthew Coster, had been the victim of stolen identity. Coster is currently on active duty and deployed out of state. Four accounts were opened in his name and more than $4500 in fraudulent charges were made.

Jan.25 – M.J. McClatchy responded to 115 Corinth Dr. where AHO Homes employee Tom Neagler reported the theft of a GE flattop stove from a new residence. The loss was estimated at $500.

Jan. 27 – T.B. Dugan responded to the Texaco Food Mart at 2908 Hwy. 86 where he received a report that the front door had been broken with a brick and the cash register stolen.

 Jan. 27 – P.D. Marter responded to Sawtooth Court where he found Mattie Haines, WF, 17, and Alex Summerall, WM, 17,both of Easley, fighting at the scene. He separated them and learned that they had been in a domestic dispute on Colonial Drive and began chasing each other in their vehicles. They entered the Sawtooth cul-de-sac and collided. Reports state Summerall became enraged and began smashing windows and kicking Haines’ vehicle. He was arrested for assault and battery and malicious damage to property.

Jan. 27 – K.D. Pigman responded to Maynard’s Furniture Store at Iler St. and Archie St. where Miranda Lee, WF, 29, 5’4", 150 pounds, black/brn  reported she had been shot.

WILLIAMSTON

Jan.22 – M.J. McClatchy responded to 107 Cox Dr. where John Carter reported that  someone had broken into his storage shed and stolen a 2005 Honda four wheeler and a Sawz-all. A neighbor saw two white males between the ages of 18-28 around the shed and they left on a four wheeler. The loss was estimated at $4100.

Seems to Me . . .
It will take more than a writ of mandamus to get these answers

By Stan Welch

I journeyed to Columbia last week to watch as the South Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments in Councilwoman Cindy Wilson’s writ of mandamus lawsuit to force the release of county financial records.

Before going I had written a column expressing my misgivings about the outcome of the hearing. Nothing I saw in Columbia gave me any reason to change my opinion. I see virtually no chance of Ms. Wilson prevailing in this matter. In my opinion, Jay Bender, once considered the premier attorney on matters of free speech, free press and public information in South Carolina, was never in the game.

He was outmaneuvered and out lawyered at virtually every step of the way. To be fair, I think he simply saw the issue as so clearly defined as a matter of law that he lost sight of the fact that the law in Anderson County may not be the same as the law elsewhere in the state, or in the country, for that matter. I suspect he will know better soon, if he hasn’t already figured it out.

Bender allowed the issues to be so tightly defined by Preston’s attorneys that he had virtually no room to maneuver once he was before the Supreme Court. It was the same tactical error he made at each ascending level of the court system. So confined did he allow himself to become that when Justice Beatty, who clearly favored Wilson’s side of the argument, tried to allow Bender to raise the point that Wilson had been repeatedly refused the right to simply review county financial records, rather than be provided copies of them in a less than timely manner, Bender couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity.

Why? Because that point wasn’t established in his earlier presentations to the lower courts and could not be injected at the highest level of review. In short, the case was badly flawed from the start; again, in my untrained opinion.

Nevertheless, even though I think the public’s right to information will be significantly reduced by the ruling that seems all but certain to me, I did learn a lot from my trip. I learned that the Supreme Court has just as many women and black members as the Democratic slate of Presidential candidates – one of each. Chief Justice Jean Toal is the female member, and clearly a survivor, having twice been charged with leaving the scene of an accident and still remaining on the Court. Good thing she isn’t a crossing guard at a school, or a teller at a bank. She’d have been fired long ago.

Justice Beatty is the most recent member elected to the Court. That’s right. Justices are elected by the General Assembly to ten year terms. Kind of different from the federal concept of an independent judiciary, huh?

I also learned that county employees apparently had quite an interest in the outcome of the case. The planning director, the Keep America Beautiful director, the economic development director, the public information officer, and the county attorney were all on hand. County attorney Tom Martin told this reporter that he was there as a spectator, presumably at his own expense.

Whether the others were on leave or on the county clock is unknown. Mr. Preston was unable to provide that information. What their interest was is also unknown. Given the suspicions of many citizens, including fifty or so who also traveled to Columbia for the hearing, that full and unfettered access to the County’s financial records might unearth fiscal shenanigans, the interest of so many department heads might seem justified.

Less easily explained is the fact that also on hand was the County’s newest storm water runoff inspector, Kelly Nichols. Why the interest by a county employee best known for her presence, along with county administrator Joey Preston, at Cater’s Lake almost two years ago? You remember her role in the sting operation mounted by then Chief Deputy Tim Busha, when he asked Mrs. Nichols to serve as bait for a trap reportedly designed to catch those who were harassing Mr. Preston?

Is it possible that the scope of that investigation into Preston’s alleged inappropriate relationship with a county employee, or into the allegations of stalking and harassing of Mr. Preston, depending on your view of the events, has been broadened to include the Columbia area? Was Mrs. Nichols sent to the Supreme Court building by law enforcement officials, hoping to lure the alleged stalkers of Preston into a trap? There has been no confirmation of that by county or state law enforcement agencies.

Does Columbia have storm water runoff problems? Or given the rate at which County employees earn awards and certificates, maybe Mrs. Nichols was in town to consult with DHEC on their statewide program? Or is it like O.J. Simpson scouring every golf course in America looking for the killer of his wife?

Seems to me it’ll take more than a writ of mandamus to get answers to those questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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