News Archive

(0807) Week of February 21, 2007
School requests SRO officer be replaced
Gray Drive Bridge reopens
Hospitality tax passes with spending concerns
Piedmont Commissioners approve River Road sewer project
County Finance Committee looking at reporting issues
Council requires changes in reporting transfer of funds
Ron Wilson responds to email, blog attacks
EMS Board raises financial questions
Winthrop DMR repeats Conference Championship
Seems to Me . . .“Nice Job”
Woodmont Class Sweetheart pageant results

School requests SRO officer be replaced

By Stan Welch/David Meade

After completing an investigation involving allegations made by five female Palmetto High School students, Anderson School District One officials are requesting the school be assigned a different School Resource Officer.

District One Superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler said Wednesday, findings of an investigation into alleged conduct by SRO Officer Donnie Bryant were turned over to the town Tuesday and that because the SRO officer in not an employee of the District, but is an employee of the Town of Williamston, any further action will be determined by the town.

Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said Wednesday morning the town will discuss the school findings with the town’s police chief and labor attorney before making any decision of further action.

Dr. Fowler said that the SRO position is a contract position with the town, and that contract personnel work under the same policies as all District personnel.

The written allegations were made by the students last Thursday on forms which are available to students, Dr. Fowler said. Once turned in to District officials, the allegations were taken very seriously and investigated thoroughly.

Palmetto High Principal Dr. Mason Gary and Assistant Superintendent David Havird investigated for the school district, interviewing the complaintants and other students, according to District policy, said Dr. Fowler.

Fowler said the District will work with the town to provide another SRO at the school.

Mayor  Clardy and Chief  David Baker tried Monday to clarify the situation that resulted in the placing of Bryant on administrative leave as a result of allegations brought against him by the students.

Speaking to the media assembled in his office, Mayor Clardy stressed that the investigation regarding Williamston Police Department Corporal Donnie Bryant is currently a personnel matter, and not a criminal one. “Due to the nature of the allegations made, we have placed the officer on administrative leave with pay. That was not done as a punishment. It is a policy which could apply to a number of circumstances involving a police officer, including these circumstances. But there is no criminal investigation at this stage.”

According to Chief David Baker, five female students lodged allegations against Cpl. Bryant last Thursday. “The Mayor and I met with school superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler and his Assistant Superintendent David Havird, this morning. School was not in session Friday, so we are all just getting involved with this. But it appears that the allegations were made collectively. Whether the alleged incidents occurred collectively will be determined by the investigation.” No incident report was made, according to Chief Baker.

The situation, said Clardy, is complicated by the fact that the school and the Town are conducting their own investigations. “We both have personnel and administrative policies that apply here, and we have to follow those policies. The school will be interviewing the students and any witnesses today. They have assured us that we will be made privy to their findings as soon as possible. If we determine that the allegations have merit, the Town will recuse itself and ask another agency to conduct a thorough investigation.”

Bryant is a 20 year veteran of the Williamston Police Department, and has been a school resource officer for almost five years. “He’s doing okay. It’s obviously unpleasant for a law enforcement officer to be accused of something like this, but he is confident and cooperative. He is eager to return to work. We in the department bear this burden with him, and hope to see a resolution as quickly as possible,” said Chief Baker.

Baker took issue with the “spin” put on the situation by some local media. “To see a headline saying he’s been charged with sex offenses is not just inaccurate. It’s wrong. He has been charged with nothing at this point.” Baker stressed that the issue at hand at this point is whether the SRO acted properly in his role within the school.

Baker also called the presence of a school resource officer a “huge asset. They allow students to build a relationship with a law enforcement officer in a way that isn’t available elsewhere. That presence offers students alternatives when they are faced with various situations. There is also a tremendous safety aspect to their presence.” 

 Neither the Mayor nor Chief Baker could confirm or deny reports that some of the students making the allegations were the subject of disciplinary actions themselves last week. “Certainly, in such a situation, motives are a factor that would be of interest to both us and the school officials, I’m sure,” said Clardy. “But I cannot offer any personal knowledge in that regard.”

 Baker acknowledged that the need to fill in for Bryant increases the stress on an already undermanned department. The WPD lost seven officers last year during the town’s efforts to deal with its financial problems. “We hope to replace those officers as we can,” said Baker, “but for now we will all pull together and meet our obligations to the citizens of our Town.”

 Mayor Clardy said that there was no specific time frame for the Town to complete its investigation but expected to make a decision soon after findings from the District are presented. Clardy said he will make any decision involving the officer based on the recommendations he receives from the labor attorney and Police Chief David Baker.

“We want to expedite this as quickly as we can, so that the trust of the parents can be restored, either through the exoneration of the officer, or by actions taken if they are deemed necessary. But we owe it to everyone to be fair and thorough with these investigations.”School officials ask for

Gray Drive Bridge reopens for traffic

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Monday officially opening the Gray Drive bridge, which has been closed for 15 years.

The wooden structure was reopened approximately two weeks ago after workers finished rebuilding the bridge to the standards set prior to it being closed in 1991.

Mayor Phillip Clardy, Councilman Otis Scott, Sen. Billy O’Dell, Rep. Michael Thompson and citizens Pamela Owens, Darlene Smith and other town officials participated in the ribbon cutting.

Several citizens showed up though not everyone there was happy with the bridge being reopened.

Chris Ellison, who lives on the County side of the bridge, while not happy with it being reopened, was more concerned about related safety issues.

Ellison said with the bridge reopened there is already additional traffic on the road resulting in speeding vehicles and noise from vehicles crossing the wooden plank bridge.

He also pointed out additional traffic at the intersection of Gray Drive with Hwy. 20, a dangerous intersection due to three roads and a drive way.

Additional homes being built on both sides of the bridge, especially on the Williamston side, have also added to increased traffic using the road and bridge and adding to concerns about children being present.

Ellison has lived on the road for 41 years.

A resident on the Williamston side, Casey Coleman was also not happy with the bridge being reopened.

She also complained of the noise and speeding and additional traffic on the road. She too is worried about children along the road.

Owens said that the bridge has helped with traffic on Gray Drive, with more vehicles using the bridge rather than having to come down Gray Drive to Academy St.

Each of the elected officials said  they will continue to look into improvements that can be made with the situation.

Sen. O’Dell said that he had worked on the problem for years and that the bridge was finally rebuilt, yet he would like to have had a better bridge that would handle heavier vehicles.

“This is not an issue that is resolved. We have constantly gone forward and tried to hold out for a better bridge,” he said. “We will continue to work with the county, state and municipality.”

County Councilmember Cindy Wilson said that she would look into appropriating  funding to have speed bumps installed to help slow traffic crossing the bridge from both sides. Wilson thanked the citizens who worked so hard on the cause.

Owens said she was satisfied that it was open, but agreed that there are still some minor problems with it, such as some boards being loose, which adds to the noise.

“It has made a world of difference on traffic,” Owens said. “A lot of traffic crosses the bridge rather than going up Gray Drive.”

Owens suggested a sign should be added to warn trucks and buses not to use the bridge which has a 2 ton per axle, 6 ton maximum weight limit.

She said that people using the bridge should be courteous to the neighbors in the area “and not be speeding and being a problem to the neighborhood.”

“It could be an asset to both sides,” she said.

Workers began repairing the wooden structure about mid year of 2006 after an agreement was reached and signed by CSX, Anderson County and Williamston officials. The agreement came after the County and the Town partnered on a lawsuit which was brought against CSX in 1994. At the time CSX was also threatening to abandon the line, a move local officials were against.

According to officials, the structure was to be repaired to original 1920s standards. 

Hospitality tax passes with spending concerns

During their mid-month meeting Monday, Williamston Town Council approved a hospitality tax , discussed an ordinance to help deal with vandalism in the park, and approved a sludge removal option at the town’s sewer treatment plant.

With a 4-1 vote, Council approved a motion by Councilman Otis Scott to hold final reading on a hospitality tax on prepared food which will go into effect on July 1st.

During discussion on the matter, Councilman Marion Middleton, Jr.,  said he had voted against the proposal initially, but agreed it would be a “good tax if we control it and not spend it on items other than parks and recreation.”

Councilman Carthel Crout was the lone holdout against the proposal, stating he had very serious concerns with how the money will be used.

After discussions, the motion was amended to include a provision that  proceeds collected from the 2 percent hospitality tax would be frozen for six months until Council could determine controls on how it will be used.

In other action, Mayor Phillip Clardy reported that he had sent prints to SCDOT showing the intent to relocate Pelzer Avenue.

Council unanimously approved a purchasing ordinance which is a  continuation of purchasing procedures already being used by the town. (Editors note: Minutes state Councilman Middleton made a motion to put off the policy until an auditor was hired) - (June 1, 2008)

Council unanimously decided to  present nominations on the municipal judge and the assistant judge position appointments at their March 19 meeting.

Council decided to establish a Parks Committee to make recommendations for improvements in Mineral Spring Park. Each Council member and the mayor will make a recommendation for a representative on the committee which will include the chairman of the Springwater Committee and the town’s Parks and Recreation Director, for a 7 member committee.

Council unanimously approved first reading on an ordinance allowing the town to offer financing on property known as the McPhail property which is being sold to the renters currently living on it.

The ordinance allows the town to owner finance at 5% interest for a period of time.

Council will be meeting with department heads  beginning Wed. Feb. 21 to discuss job descriptions for town employees.

Town officials announced that surveillance camera installation in Mineral Spring Park has already begun. The cameras were recenlty approved to help deal with vandalism in the park.

In an effort to deter additional vandalism, Council also discussed an ordinance that will set strict penalties for trespassing and vandalism in Mineral Spring Park. First reading on the ordinance is set for Mon., March 5. The park hours are currently set to close at dark during the winter and at 11 p.m. during the summer months.

There was some discussion of an ordinance dealing with vacant buildings and building and codes enforcement, but no action was taken. Attorney Richard Thompson said he was looking at a comprehensive nuisance ordinance but advised the town will have to have somebody responsible.

Council unanimously approved a recommendation by Goldie and Associates to use a BYO-GON treatment  which is an environmental friendly way to treat sludge at the town’s treatment plant.

The treatment cost will be $26,400, plus an odor neutralizer with cost of $7,300 for a total of $33,700.  The treatment will reduce sludge pack by 50%, according to Councilman Middleton.

He said the option is considerably less than the $50,000 per basin cost to remove sludge.

Councilman Crout said that council needs access to financial statements and other information and said that he was not notified of the change in the time capsule, the hiring of a new employee and that he was finding out things through the media.

“We need to communicate so Council knows what is going on so we can do our job.”

Crout suggested a calendar or email being used to inform council of what is going on.

Crout also said he had talked with a contractor who would tear down the old city hall building for materials. One sealed bid has been submitted according to Mayor Clardy, and if any others are received, they will be opened on March 1st.

During Council remarks, Councilman Crout said the town needs a grant writer and that they still did not have a list of grants obtained by the former grant writer.

Councilman Middleton  suggested a traffic flow study to determine if the proposed Ida Tucker extension will divert traffic away from downtown.

Council then went into executive session to discuss personnel issues involving overtime and comp time.

Upon returning to regular session, Council unanimously approved proposed landscaping improvements to the Williams Cemetery located in Mineral Spring Park.

Proposed improvements include adding steps  (from the original site) at the entrance gate, adding a marble slab with the Williams family names on it, slate rock and other landscaping.

Council also authorized the removal of a tree located at the site.

The next meeting of Williamston Town Council will be held on Monday, March 5 at 6 p.m.

Piedmont Commissioners approve River Road sewer project

By Stan Welch

The efforts of the Piedmont Fire Commission to save money ran the gamut from concern over cashews to the cost of copies used by the members to the money paid to the members themselves.

Commissioner Frankie Garrett was concerned over the purchase of cashews as door prizes at the Fire Department’s Christmas party. Chairman Ed Poore and Vice Chairman Al McAbee were worried about all the copies of documents and written reports that were being generated by the various standing committees.

Commissioner Garrett said that the policy was to provide copies of such reports and documents. Commissioner Stover added that he would decide what copies were necessary as far as the sewer committee was concerned.

Stover, for the second time in as many meetings since being installed on the Commission, moved that the Commissioners return the money they receive for their service and allow it to be redirected to the firemen themselves. The motion died for lack of a second. Stover vowed to raise the issue at each meeting. Commissioner Marsha Rogers asked whether it was possible to make a motion to table the issue for at least a year. “I just think you feel obligated to bring it up because it was part of your campaign,” she told Stover. Stover denied that.

Despite, or perhaps because of, Chairman Poore’s precise explanations of the various issues that came before the Commission, several members sought to stress their own positions and points.

Former Chairwoman Rogers, for example, stated emphatically that she had not been voted out as Chairperson for this year, but had resigned and nominated Poore herself. “There’s been some question about that and I just want to set it straight.” The minutes from the January meeting of the Commission confirm that fact.

During Commissioner Stover’s report from the sewer and light committee, Poore raised a question about someone who had been offered sewer insurance to protect them from any problems in their lines between the street and their house. Both Poore and Stover emphasized that the Commission was in no way involved in such an offer.

Also during Stover’s report, John Pruitt, the sewer consultant for the commission, reported that approximately fifty per cent of the area’s sewer lines have been inspected by television camera, and hydraulically cleaned out. “We have had no overflows in more than a year, and when we started back in 2000 on this line maintenance project, the system was experiencing from 17 to 22 overflows a year. Those are actual releases of raw sewage into the environment,” said Pruitt.

 He went on to say that a 600 linear foot pipeline project slated for River Road was ready to proceed. The project is expected to cost approximately $73,000, though Pruitt says he expects a slight drop in that cost as a result of some reviews of the project. After considerable discussion, the Commissioners voted to approve the expenditure of up to $75,000 on the project. A May 31 construction and inspection deadline concerning the $29,500 grant funds slated for use on the project created the need for action. An additional $10,500 in matching funds, as well as a surplus from last year’s budget of $32,696 will also be used to fund the project.

Should the cost rise above $75,000 the Commission would meet to review the project. Pruitt said he anticipated no trouble in meeting the May 31 deadline.

 Chairman Poore reported that the Commission’s net income for January was $82,210.96, and the Commission’s bank balance, in all forms, was $220,210.95.

That figure includes $113, 628 received from MetalCraft, Inc. for taxes in arrears. The company had been refusing to pay taxes for four years, and the Commission, with the assistance of Greenville County Councilwoman Judy Gilstrap, had been seeking to bring pressure on the company.

The Commission also approved the purchase of a new computer for records keeping and accounting purposes. The low bid of $1320 for a Gateway computer was approved by a vote of 3-2,with Poore breaking the tie. A vote to seek bids for a lawn maintenance contract for the coming year was approved.

 Stover then raised the issue of the Commissioners’ pay. He made the motion to redirect the pay to the firemen “who work for it and deserve it. A lot of folks disagree with us being paid.” Poore clarified that the compensation is actually a per diem and expense allowance, a distinction that Stover shrugged aside. “Call it what you want, Mr. Chairman. It is pay by any name.”

 Stover also stated that mileage logs should be kept on all vehicles, but the recommendation never reached the status of a motion. Commissioner McAbee and  Chief

Tracy Wallace explained that maintenance and gas logs are kept on all trucks, and that mileage might not be the most accurate measure, since so many vehicles are left running at response scenes. Stover said, “If anyone asks me about mileage on the trucks, I’ll just tell them this Commission doesn’t care.”

Bonus story - County Finance Committee looking at reporting issues

By Stan Welch

When newly elected Anderson County Council Chairman Bob Waldrep appointed a standing Finance Committee composed of Council members Gracie Floyd, Cindy Wilson and Bill McAbee, he must have at least foreseen the possibility of lively and contentious meetings.

If so, his foresight became reality as the first meeting developed into a head to head confrontation between committee Chairperson Floyd and Councilwoman Wilson. On the rare occasions when Councilman McAbee ventured into the open, he joined Floyd in supporting a proposed new system of reporting the County’s financial activities.

It was a fourth member of Council, District Three Councilman Larry Greer, however, who provided the day’s biggest news. Greer, whose presence at the table would have constituted a quorum of the full Council, instead sat with several other staffers and onlookers around the room’s perimeter. He took no part in the meeting, until late in the proceedings, when Chairperson Floyd asked him for his opinion on the meeting and the decisions made by the committee.

It was then that Greer, in a totally unexpected and remarkable departure from past performance, stated his opinion that Ms. Wilson should indeed receive the GLR100s as she has requested for more than four years.

“I think Ms. Wilson is seeking these reports in order to determine whether the various expenditures included in those reports are appropriate. I think that is a valid reason to ask for them and I think she should have them,” Greer said.

The new system, proposed by Gina Humphreys, county financial analyst, would involve a significant change in the form and timing of the reports. Calling it a big picture fund report, Humphreys said it would include a comparison of actual expenditures and revenues compared to budgeted figures.

“This method would give you a much better big picture of the County’s finances. The GLR110s are more of a snapshot,” said Humphreys. Humphreys told the committee that Wilson recieves those reports now, but Wilson quickly corrected her, saying, “No, I don’t. Mr. Preston is still withholding them from me.”

The GLR110 reports she and Greer referred to have long been a source of contention between Councilwoman Wilson and County Administrator Joey Preston. Her demand for the weekly reports, and Preston’s refusal to provide them is one of the central issues in a writ of mandamus lawsuit that is scheduled to be heard by the South Carolina Supreme Court later this spring.

Wilson conceded that the new reports could be helpful for Council, but insisted that she still expects to receive the GLR110 reports. “I still stand by my request for those reports. They are generated for Mr. Preston each week, according to sworn testimony by Rita Davis in a deposition. So it would be easy to provide.”

She later asked Preston if there was any chance of receiving the back issues of the report that she has been seeking, and he said that he would provide them if the committee told him to.

“But this committee is going back to what we were talking about,” said Floyd. She then asked Humphreys for more information on the proposed new format. Humphreys indicated that the revenue side of the report would be more problematic than the expenditures, because there are several sources of revenue. “Still, once we get the programming done to produce this report, we should be able to pull the information up even in the middle of the month,” Humphreys said.

McAbee referred to the new format as similar to an executive summary report, “such as you would provide a CEO if this were a corporation”.

A letter from Chairman Bob Waldrep was reviewed by the committee members. The letter stated Waldrep’s opinion that “the interpretation of the administrator that a ‘loan’ is not a transfer (is) highly inappropriate and totally inconsistent with good financial control.” He also said in the letter, dated February 20, that “I consider the current interpretation of administrative action allowing unapproved transfers and loans an inappropriate abdication to the administrator by the council.”

 Those themes would be repeated later in the day during a marathon County Council meeting. 

 Wilson continued to return to the issue of the GLR110s, as well as the issue of fund transfers. County ordinance calls for the administrator to inform Council of any fund transfers greater than $2500 within thirty days of the transfer.She pointed to well over one million dollars worth of transfers that were made known to Council just before the end of the 05-06 budget year in June of 2006. “These transfers were made known several months after they were made. That is a violation of our budget ordinance.”

Preston responded that the requirement is for him to notify Council within thirty days after he is informed of the transfers.  Wilson was having none of that. “So you are blaming the finance department for being so slow with their notification? Don’t you have to sign off on all these transfers?”

Preston explained that the requests for transfers and the transfers and the verification that the transfers wouldn’t place any department in deficit, go through a chain of command that ends with him. “I might sign off on these after all those steps have been followed.”

Wilson pressed him. “Isn’t your signature required before the funds can be transferred?” Preston conceded that fact. “Then that is the point at which Council should be informed of the transfers, and not weeks or months later,” she said. She also referred to the reporting process as “sleight of hand” on Preston’s part.

The issue would become very important later in the day, when the Council voted to include language in the upcoming budget ordinance that would require prior approval by the Council of any fund transfers. (See related story elsewhere in this issue.)

Wilson also raised questions about a reported $80,000 worth of fund transfers from the Clerk of Court’s office to the Sheriff’s Department, to be used in purchasing food for the inmates as well as paying for overtime for the guards. The same transfers had been referred to by Waldrep in his letter, mentioned above. Nevertheless, neither Humphreys nor Davis could recall such a transfer, which occurred during the 05-06 budget year, but became known to Clerk of Court Cathy Phillips only recently.

In fact, two such transfers totaling $74,500 appeared on a list of eighty transfers prepared by Davis, which were only made known last week, but which were apparently made just before the end of the 05-06 budget year.

Wilson continued to raise issues which Floyd struggled to fend off. “That’s not what we’re here for today,” she said more than once. 

Among the issues Wilson raised were her continuing efforts to receive financial records from Preston and her statement that Sheriff Crenshaw had recently informed her of a letter from Preston to former Chief deputy Tim Busha, which she said apparently encouraged Busha to incur some of the overspending which resulted in Crenshaw’s department being approximately $2.5 million in deficit.

 The Committee, in the absence of a formal motion, nevertheless voted to report to the full Council on the new reporting format at their next meeting.

Council requires changes in reporting transfer of funds

By Stan Welch

The Anderson County Council took the first steps Tuesday to address what Chairman Bob Waldrep called an abdication of authority over the last ten years. District Three Councilman Larry Greer led the way, offering a motion to include language in the upcoming budget ordinance that would effectively require Council to give prior approval to the transfer of funds, by any means, between departments. He also asked that a method by which the “loan” could be repaid by the Sheriff be included in the budget ordinance, as well. The motion was passed by a vote of 6-1, with Councilwoman Floyd opposing.

That marks a significant change in policy, and in the relationship between the Council and county administrator Joey Preston. Chairman Waldrep referred to that relationship late in the meeting when he spoke of the “abdication of authority by this Council over the last ten years.”  He added “I was astounded when I came on this Council to learn how little its members knew about the County’s financial dealings and how little authority they exercised.”

The impetus for the change appears to have come from the recent revelations concerning the deficit which the Sheriff’s department is experiencing. Preston’s explanation that Council had not been informed of four separate fund transfers to the Sheriff because they were “loans” clearly did not set well with Waldrep and others on the Council. In fact, District Six Councilman Ron Wilson suggested to Transportation Director Holt Hopkins, who was decrying the lack of funds to purchase rights of way, that he ask Mr. Preston for a loan; a line which drew a big laugh from the crowd.

Councilwoman Cindy Wilson has long been a critic of the policy which called for the administrator to inform Council of transfers in excess of $2500 within thirty days of the transfer. She has repeatedly claimed that the reporting requirement is ignored, in violation of the County’s budget ordinance. Earlier in the day, at a finance committee meeting at which Preston was present, she had raised the question again. Preston explained at that time  that he reported within thirty days of receiving notification from the finance department of any such transfers. Wilson pursued the issue until Preston conceded that he did in fact sign off on such transfers when they were made. “That is when Council should be informed,” said Wilson, “ and not months later when it does us no good to know about it.”

 Ms. Floyd, in expressing her opposition to the proposed language, said that she was afraid that the Council was getting too much power. She went so far as to say she considered the proposal dangerous. “I don’t think that should be in our hands. That’s the administrator’s responsibility.”

She also said, “If you made the Sheriff come to us when he needed the money, some members of this Council have told me personally that they would have voted not to give it to him. We would have had to shut down the Sheriff’s department. The people of Anderson County would have no protection.”

She went on to apologize to Sheriff Crenshaw, saying, “I’m sorry you had to go over. I wish we could have given you what you asked for, and I thank you for going over. For any part I played in that, I apologize to you. I think our administrator told us about it as soon as he could, and I think we need to keep politics out of it. That’s why we pay the administrator, is to handle things like this for us.”

Preston, responding to a question from Floyd, said, “ Mr. Greer might be setting himself up for future problems. It’s our job to come in under budget overall. Prior approval might result in tying up the county operations.”

Greer responded that he saw no problem with Council accepting its responsibility. “The intent of this ordinance is to require every department to come back to Council to explain if they are exceeding their budget. The buck stops with us, literally.”

Several members of Council indicated that Preston had reported the Sheriff’s problems to them in private conversations, but no formal notification of the Council as a body transpired. Preston told Council that in his twenty one years as a county administrator, the Sheriff had always overspent his budget. “It happens in every county. The Sheriff asked to be put into a special revenue fund in order to take advantage of the increasing value of the mil. That put his department out in the light, where the deficit couldn’t be hidden, like it usually is, under headings like police expense.

Waldrep took issue with Floyd’s statements about the Council forcing the Sheriff to shut down. He and Floyd had several sharp exchanges during the evening, including one over her statements about the Sheriff. “Ms. Floyd, I realize that you have no confidence in this Council, based on what you said earlier, but it is inconceivable to me that the Council would vote to remove police protection form the good people of Anderson County. I have the utmost confidence in this Council. But we need to know about these transfers in advance for the simple reason that it is our job. There has been an abdication of authority by this Council over the last ten years, and it needs to be addressed,” said Waldrep.

In other business, the Council gave second reading approval to an ordinance that would repeal the existing setbacks. Councilman Greer proposed the change, saying that the existing ordinance, which establishes a twenty five foot setback results in a taking of property without offer of compensation. He stressed the difference between subdivision and development. “Subdivision is the simple splitting of a piece of property into two or more parcels. Development is the breaking up of a tract into lots for sale and construction. The current ordinance paints everyone with the same brush. I just believe that it is wrong to take someone’s property without even negotiating with them.”

Waldrep suggested a possible amendment to the ordinance to reflect that difference, and Greer expressed his willingness to consider that approach. Following a public hearing and considerable discussion, Council voted 5-2 to give second reading approval.

Council also considered a revised animal cruelty ordinance, which lead to another of the evening’s sharp exchanges between Floyd, who chaired the committee which produced the ordinance, and Waldrep, who asked a number of questions about it. The changes were originally sought by an animal control officer, Mary Wilson, who has since denounced the committee’s results. Wilson no longer works for the County.

“We originally wanted to change the definition of a pet, to allow us to protect more animals, and to bring our ordinances into compliance with state law, so that we could be empowered to enforce state laws. There have now been more than 500 changes made to the ordinance, and we still haven’t accomplished the two things we set out to do,” said Wilson, speaking after the meeting. “We were doing fine until Lt. Keith Bowman, of Animal Control, started meeting with the lawyer. It’s been downhill ever since.”

Adam Artigliere, the McNair Law Firm attorney who worked with the committee, which included three veterinarians, a Farm Bureau representative and Mr. Greer and Mr. Thompson, as well as  county staff, and several citizens, including Mary Wilson, explained that simply adopting state ordinances isn’t a workable choice, in his opinion.

“There are simply too many differences and discrepancies. This ordinance uses language harvested from state law, the appropriate Richland County ordinance, which is considered a model, and language from the existing Anderson County ordinance. The committee believes that this is the best approach.”

Waldrep and Councilwoman Wilson apparently disagreed, or at least thought it could be accomplished to a greater extent than the committee had proposed.

As Waldrep continued to ask questions, along with Councilwoman Wilson, Floyd became agitated. Finally she asked Waldrep for the floor, which he granted. “I just don’t get what the problem is, Mr. Chairman. We went through this piece by piece. We made sure we didn’t step on anyone’s toes. Well, I call an ace an ace. Ms. Wilson doesn’t like it, so it’s wrong.  Or is it because I’m the one presenting it? This isn’t about the animals anymore. Before this came up, nobody said a word. But we try to do something about it and here comes the nay sayer.”

Waldrep tried to ease the tension, saying, “Ms. Floyd, you don’t need to take it personally.”

She broke in and said, “Well, I am taking it personally, and I’ll see you after this meeting.”

Waldrep retorted, “Well, when I see something like this, I want to be sure what we’re talking about. I am not persuaded at this time. If you just want to be unhappy with a member of Council you’ll have to start with me tonight. But please allow me to have my  own opinion.”

Council gave first reading approval to the ordinance, which contains no licensing provision at this time. 

A public hearing approaching two hours in length preceded the Council’s decision to give second reading approval to the abolishing of Anderson’s blue laws. An effort by Ron Wilson to force an advisory referendum was defeated by a vote of 4-3, with Wilson, Cindy Wilson and Larry Greer voting in the affirmative, while the other four Council members voted against the referendum.

The vote to abolish the blue laws was the exact reverse, with the same three voting to retain the laws, while Council members Thompson, McAbee, Waldrep and Floyd voted to abolish them. Third reading approval is required to achieve that purpose.

In other business, Ms. Wilson allocated ten thousand dollars to the Town of Williamston for ditching and grading, to be paid upon presentation of an invoice.

Ron Wilson responds to email, blog attacks

By Stan Welch

Just weeks after he was installed on the Anderson County Council, District Six Councilman Ron Wilson became the target of a ruthless attack on the Internet. An e-mail was sent to more than 100 media outlets, businesses and educators. The source for the e-mail is identified as AndersonCountySquare, but efforts to trace it further have been unsuccessful.

The e-mail was filled with charges that Wilson is a “racist, a neo-Nazi wacko and a hate-monger”, and purports to link him to various racist and hate organizations. Wilson was also attacked on a blogsite run by Brian McCarty, an attorney in the Lexington area. So harsh were McCarty’s postings that Wilson eventually challenged him to a debate, to be held this past Monday, at the Anderson County Fairgrounds. Sponsoring the debate was The Anderson Independent Mail, on whose Cocklebur blogsite many of the charges were reproduced, along with commentary.

Even before the debate took place, however, Wilson was working to turn the attacks to his advantage. In the process, he essentially announced his intention to run for reelection to County Council. In a two page fundraising letter sent out on February 12,Wilson refers to the “very vicious and hateful attack . . . launched against my character and good name.” Apparently, McCarty’s identity had not surfaced at the time of the letter’s writing, since the letter says, “Acting anonymously, someone using a government e-mail list, sent a bitterly negative attack piece accusing me of all kinds of outrageous things. They accused me of being a racist bigot and claimed I tried to ‘sell my vote’ for Council Chairman, among other things.”

Wilson had offered to vote for District Four Councilman Bill McAbee in exchange for a signed promise to support Wilson’s call for a full audit of the County’s finances. McAbee refused, and was defeated. But Wilson both nominated and voted for McAbee anyway. Recent reports have linked McAbee and McCarty, suggesting that McAbee inititated the attacks on Wilson. McAbee has not commented on those charges.

Wilson links the attack on him to his support for a full audit of the County’s finances. Wilson ran on that issue as part of his platform, and wasted little time in raising the issue at his first meeting on Council. Wilson won approximately 65% of the vote in the Republican primary against then incumbent Bill Dees. Wilson was unopposed in the general election.

The letter goes on to say that hard fought campaigns are usually followed by  a few months of peace, but adds a small group of elites in Anderson is angry and afraid that the Council will rein in government spending and begin expressing our conservative values again.” He states that the attacks are clearly a prelude to the next election. “It is clear that I will have opposition in my re-election bid, and I don’t want to wait for the attacks to get worse, so I’m asking you to help me now.”

The letter contains an envelope and response form that allows supporters to give up to $500. “It is very important that I prepare for the coming storm now,” the letter concludes.

EMS Board raises financial questions

At least one member of the EMS Board of Commissioners wants to know how they got more than a million dollars in debt, and why the steady growth of the county hasn’t resulted in an increase in revenues generated by the special tax levy that funds them.

Teresa Morgan, recently elected as Vice Chair of the Commission, raised several questions at least week’s meeting concerning the flat level of funding which the various EMS squads have experienced.

“According to Greg Shore, his company MedShore hasn’t seen an increase in funding in seven years. Neither have the squads, from what I hear. But (Anderson County planning director) Jeff Ricketson is reporting all this growth in the county. Based on the special levy of 3.2 mils in Anderson itself, and 5.7 mils in the county, that growth should mean significantly higher funding,” said Morgan.

Interim Public Safety Director Taylor Jones responded that the ordinance establishing that levy deals with emergency services, rather than the more specific emergency medical services. Morgan disagreed, as did newly elected Chairman Dr. Stuart Barnes.

Morgan, who is also a nurse, also questioned figures that show a deficit of more than a million dollars in the Commission’s operations. “How did we get a million dollars in debt? It looks like we’re paying for a lot of communications and emergency services expenses. But a special levy should be used for the purpose it was designed for.”

Morgan went on to ask that the GLR-153 financial report for EMS be provided, along with one employee from the finance department to answer any questions. She also asked that County Auditor Jacky Hunter be present to explain the levy. “We don’t need a big dog and pony show, with a lot of charts. Just the report and one person we can ask questions of,” she said.

Jones expressed his doubts that the Commission can require a county employee to appear before them. “I’m also not sure that this information is available to you.” The Commission, however, voted to approve both requests.

In other business, some of the squad leaders questioned the practice of the Northern Anderson Rescue Squad routinely running under code three emergency conditions, even though they are transporting non-emergency patients, such as patients headed to physical therapy or dialysis. “The regulations in Section 7of DHEC regs clearly prohibits running code three for non-emergency transport,” said Chief Bill Brock, of the Honea Path squad. “But who’s going to enforce them? Deputies don’t know where the unit is headed, and they’re trained to let emergency vehicles proceed to their destination.”

The question of territories was also raised. “Northern Anderson responded all the way to Iva a while back. They passed three squad buildings on the way, and had their lights and sirens on all the way. We all do non-emergency transport to raise money for the squads. We were basically told by County Council last year during budget time that we had to find our own way to increase revenues. So we did. But the nearest squad doesn’t get the call. The company that supposedly bought Northern Anderson practically gives away their service in Richland County, to drive the price down.”

Winthrop DMR repeats Conference Championship

Two former School District One track standouts helped lead the 4-man Winthrop Eagle Distance Medley Relay (DMR) team to their second conference championship at the Big South Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships held at Clemson’s Indoor Track Facility Feb. 17 and 18.

Juniors Brad Orr and Justin Meade, with teammates Junior Charles Pickard and Sophomore Brandon Hudgins, defended their DMR title with a school-record time of 10:15.15. The four runners etched their names into the record books with the win as each garnered All-Conference honors.

“This was an incredible meet for the Eagles. The men scored in every event they entered. The women scored in all but two. To see both (Kandrick) Cooper and the DMR repeat was a thrill. It is awfully tough to do that when you’ve got a bulls-eye on your back,” said head coach Ben Paxton.

Cooper, a junior from Georgetown, SC, collected his third straight Big South indoor title in the 60m hurdles as he covered the distance in a meet-record time of 7.99 seconds. He also is the two-time defending outdoor champion in the event as well.

The men’s indoor track team finished fourth in the meet while the women were sixth. Liberty won the men’s and Coastal Carolina won the women’s championship.

The Winthrop track team will be off this weekend as they prepare for the Virginia Tech Last Chance Meet March 3 in Blacksburg, VA.

A selected squad will travel to Virginia Tech with hopes of qualifying for the NCAA Indoor Championships. 

The Eagles will open up the outdoor season at home on March 17th with the Winthrop Duals.

Seems to Me . . .“Nice Job”

By Stan Welch

I’m sure most of you have had experiences which, suddenly and in ways that cannot be ignored, remind and inform us of the passage of more years than we might care to count. Perhaps its running into an old friend at the mall, or getting notice of a high school or college reunion. Maybe it’s having an old friend drag out all the pictures of their grandchildren! Grandchildren! Yipes!

Thankfully, not all awakenings are quite that rude. Some are more satisfying than others, though not necessarily less definite. For example, in the late 1980’s, shortly after I got into the newspaper business, I was working for, and later editing, a couple of weekly newspapers in Horry County. Before I became editor, I was actually a free lance reporter, much as I am now for The Journal.

While I was still free lancing, I did a few stories and wrote a column each week. Even then, political and investigative reporting were my real interests. I didn’t care a whole lot for soft stuff like the county’s biggest tomato or things like that. I did then, and still do, enjoy a good story about human beings. I do not care for stories about wonder goats or horses that can count to twenty.  In fact the only time I flatly refused to accept an assignment was early in my career when my editor tried to get me to go to a pig’s debutante ball.

I swear I’m not making this up. There was a neurosurgeon who lived at Sunset Beach in Brunswick County. He and his wife had a pet potbellied pig that they let live in the house with them. I mean, eat at the table, sleep on the sofa, live in the house. Can’t you just see some poor patient who needs brain surgery sitting in this guy’s office while they talk about his pet pig?  Tell you what, Doc, do a little work on your own brain, then we’ll talk.

Anyway, this guy and his wife (boy, talk about people finding their one true mate) actually planned and held a debutante ball for their pig, complete with catering and a gown and engraved invitations. Anyway, Lou Hopchas, my editor, wanted me to go and interview the people and the pig. I must give Lou credit, she did a great job on that interview.

I digress, however. A couple years later, when working for the other two papers, I was fortunate enough to win several awards; some from the Grand Strand Press Association, and some from the South Carolina Press Association. I won a couple for investigative stories and a couple for my columns. Since I had never had any training in journalism, and since I had quit a pretty good job to pursue a career in writing of some sort or another, I thought the awards were pretty cool. I mean, they seemed to reinforce my decision to become a newspaperman.

Of course, my appreciation of those awards was tempered by the fact that I also won an award for sports action photo for a shot I got at a local high school football game. It was a great shot of a receiver rolling like an armadillo out of bounds with the ball clearly clutched in his hands. You could even see his face inside his helmet. The reason for that is that I was about two feet from him, running for my life, when I stuck the camera behind me without looking and hit the shutter.

I didn’t even know I had a picture until I got the film developed, much less whether it was a good one or not. Yes, I said film. This was back in the days when digital photos were as far in the future as cell phones.

I have those awards in my small office at home, at least the ones whose glass has survived several moves since those years. The rest are in a box somewhere. But they all serve to remind me that my peers, whose opinions are the only ones of value, agreed that I had done the work, and done it to an acceptable, professional standard. Seems to me there are few jobs as misinterpreted by those who do not have them than being a journalist. So when those who understand the demands and the challenges of the work take time to say “Nice job”, that’s pretty cool.

Still, to receive such an award almost twenty years after receiving the first batch does make one wonder where the years went. Thousands of stories and hundreds of meetings have passed since those early days, when I couldn’t even type. It was quite a shock, though a pleasant one, when I received an award from the SCPA for a series of stories I did last year concerning State Representative John Scott and his relationship with county administrator Joey Preston, as well as his consulting company’s lucrative relationship with Anderson County.

You like to think you can still do the work, and do it to an acceptable and professional standard. But even years later, it’s still nice to know that others agree.




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