News Archive

(0906) Week of Mar 1, 2006

Williamston wrap - developments concerning the Town of Williamston financial crisis since January 2006

Town to auction properties to satisfy IRS

Public hearing Monday on garbage collection fee

Renters, residents to begin paying new municipal waste fee
Bonnes Amies sponsors Miss Piedmont, Miss Powdersville pageant
Council member takes quest for information to next level
Council retreat focuses on projects, operations
Two District One schools were finalists For Palmetto’s Finest Award
Local runners pace Winthrop DMR team To Big South Championship
Seems to Me . . . I thought I’d seen ’bout everything

Town to auction properties to satisfy IRS

By Stan Welch

Williamston Town Council, along with Mayor Phillip Clardy, continued its efforts to address the Town’s financial troubles at a special budget meeting last Thursday, Feb. 23. Key among the measures taken was the approval of a plan to sell all non-essential town property, including a list of 42 properties.

Local realtor and Williamston resident Hugh Durham will oversee the auction of properties to be held on March 31, at the Williamston Municipal Center. Durham will advertise and promote the sale, as well as establishing a website for viewing the properties and their descriptions.

The sale of two properties promises to be controversial, a fact that both Clardy and Durham acknowledged. One is the site of the old town hall and jail. The other is the old recreation center site on Gossett Drive. Clardy acknowledged that the sale of those sites would stir controversy, but added, “The most controversial sites are also the most valuable.”

Joe Newton, Appalachian Council of Government’s Director of Government Operations, stated that all proceeds from the sale of town property would be earmarked for satisfying state and federal tax arrears.

Newton said there were four categories of debt the Town faced. First, they owed taxes for two quarters. Secondly they owed the interest on those taxes. “We’re going to try and pay those two categories with the proceeds of the sale,” said Newton. The other categories are the penalties and the interest on the penalties, amounts which continue to grow daily. Said Newton, “We are going to try to pay the first two categories, and see if we can’t get the last two lifted by negotiations. That is in no way certain, but in my opinion, there will be more debt than money.”

 “I have spoken to the IRS and the state tax folks, and they were very, very pleased to learn that the Town was selling off its properties to meet their tax obligations. This has relieved a great deal of the pressure they were exerting on the Town. But none of this money will be used for anything else,” said Newton.

Newton also told the Council that IRS representatives would be conducting one-on-one interviews with those involved to determine exactly how those arrears came about. “These will be conducted privately, I assure you. But they want to know how this situation came about,” he said.

Clardy explained that the Gossett Drive property is in a state of extreme disrepair. “The building is beyond any reasonable repair. It would cost over $1 million to make it usable.” As to the existing plan to locate a museum in the old town hall building on Main St., Clardy says if that property is sold, a possibility would be to locate the museum in the front of the depot building. “There is between  $46-$50,000 available for the museum now, and that could be used to renovate a space in the depot. That’s just one possible alternative, if we sell the old town hall at all.”

Clardy, and council, instructed Durham to remove that parcel from the list for now, as well as a 14 acre tract on Ida Tucker Road, that lies below the dam. Durham stressed that no properties would be sold which would affect the Town’s operations. Clardy and the Council also reiterated that the commitment to provide soccer fields would be honored.

At Durham’s suggestion, no reserve prices will be placed on the parcels. “I have found that with this type of auction, and with these kinds of properties, you will have more than adequate interest. We are going to heavily advertise and promote this sale. But if people think you aren’t really serious about selling the properties, they won’t come. I guarantee these properties will bring fair market value or better.”

Newton also told Council that area banks were watching their actions. “Your decisions and actions so far are making a good impression. They see that you are trying to get a grip on this monster. I know you have been through some pain lately, but it is bearing fruit. In the future, when we seek some conservative loans to pay off these debts, we’ll be getting on the right track, and that will also be because of the actions you’re taking now.”

Even as the Council and Mayor searched for ways to reduce costs, the realities of running a town continued to intrude. Council voted to spend $2000 to replace and install a switch for an aerator at the wastewater treatment plant. The aerator is required in order to meet state standards for treatment. “We really have no choice except to make the repair,” said Clardy.

Council also worked its way through the budgets for several departments, including Council/administration, street/sanitation, and parks and recreation. The departments involving public safety will be addressed at this week’s workshop, scheduled for Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

 Based on the figures present, and working off of the 2005 budget document, the Town anticipates approximately $140,000 more in revenue than last year. The total of $2,632,900 is incomplete at this time, and may increase.

The size of the increase makes clear the need for spending cuts, and Council and the Mayor, with Newton’s encouragement, went after that column of the budget as well.

In the council/administration department, approximately $270,000 in cuts were realized, as a result of staff reductions, reduced capital expenditures, and cutting supplies and expenses by $35,000. Sure to increase, however, will be the amount of unemployment paid out by the department. The costs of the Dodge Durango were completely cut, to be replaced by establishment of a $1500 line item for administrative transportation expenses.

In streets and sanitation, the department which has been cut the most, savings approach $225,000. That department has been reduced to a crew of four, and provides only garbage pickup on a regular basis. “We haven’t written off picking up limbs and branches, but we simply have to prioritize these things,” said Clardy.

Parks and recreation saw reductions of more than $100,000 in its budget. Among the casualties were the Spring Water Festival and the Fourth of July celebrations. The Town will continue to fund the Christmas Park in the amount of $2,500.

Council also established stricter accounting practices concerning the breakout of various department funds, such as professional services, which includes both auditing and attorney fees. “Greater accountability is always a good thing,” said Newton.

Council also announced their decision to use other means of enforcing the newly implemented sanitation fee of $14 a month, other than cutting off a customer’s water. “Even though the two costs are on the same bill, we will not cut off someone’s water for non-Payment of the garbage fee. There are other administrative and legal channels we can use, and we will,” said Mayor Clardy.

A decision on whether to lift the burning ban in town for 30 days to allow citizens to burn their limbs and branches came to naught, when it was pointed out that state bans superseded town authority.

Public hearing Monday on garbage collection fee

Williamston Town Council continued efforts to address the town's financial crisis this week during a work session scheduled for Wednesday, March 1, at 9:30 a.m. Details of the Wednesday work session will be available as soon as possible online at www.thejournalonline.com.

A meeting on Monday, February 27 was held specifically to host a public hearing on the $14 garbage collection fee being implemented by the town, which Council unanimously approved for the third time.

Due to confusion about the date of the public hearing, a second public hearing is scheduled for the regular monthly meeting of Council which will be Monday, March 6 at 6 p.m.

The hearings are specifically being held for residents to comment on the $14 household garbage collection fee being implemented by the town. The fee will be on the March water/sewer billing which will be mailed this week, Town officials said.

Questions about the fee were raised by several citizens during the public hearing held Monday.

Resident Gary Bannister said that there was a reason for the town having to have four readings on the garbage fee. He said that there has to be a public hearing on a new service or user fee and that the funds collected for that purpose must be used for that purpose and placed in a separate fund. He also said that a notice of the meeting was not posted on the doors of the building as required. “We do not have to pay these fees until they do it correctly,” Bannister stated.

Ann McClellion said that a private trash hauler that she contacted said they could provide the service for $7 per household as opposed to the $14 the town quoted.

Carthel Crout asked what would happen if residents did not pay the $14 fee.

Responding to the question, Town Attorney Richard Thompson said that the town cannot cut off water for not paying the fee, but if not paid, it can be collected by other means including debt collector, Municipal Association debt set off or tax bill lien.

Crout said the town needs to focus on the future and that he would like to see the town continue to have a street department and eventually “build the town back.”

Willie Wright said that the extra garbage fee should be eliminated for all citizens of Williamston.

Mayor Phillip Clardy said that the only purpose of placing the fee on the water bill is that “it is a convenient means of billing.”

Clardy said billing it with the water bill instead of sending a separate bill saves approximately $400 to $700 in postage.

Responding to a question concerning the billing, the town attorney said that it is similar to the county solid waste fee which everyone is required to pay.

He said that the fee is legal and that it is “reasonable to require everybody to be on this system.”

There were also questions concerning the billing to apartments.

After hearing public comments during the hearing, Council voted 4-0 to approve the fee for the third time. A second public hearing on the issue of the $14 garbage fee is set for Monday, March 6, at 6 p.m.

Renters, residents to begin paying new municipal waste fee

Water customers in The Town of Williamston will see an increase to their already high water/sewer bill when they receive it in the mail this week.

Every water bill customer in the Town of Williamston will have the  new $14 household garbage collection fee on their March billing, which will be mailed this week, town officials said. With the new fee, the average water/sewer and garbage fee will be around $50 to $100 each month.

Residents in the town’s seven apartment complexes will also see the billing on their water bills. Questions have arisen concerning whether renters will have to pay the fee and how it affects one apartment complex which includes water and sewer in their rental price.

Bills are sent for each apartment in that complex, but they are all sent to the complex office instead of each individual renter, according to the town’s billing clerk.

According to the manager at Pecan Terrace, the rental company contracts with an outside provider to pick up their dumpsters at the facility and questioned whether the town would charge the residents for a service that is being provided by an outside hauler.

Town officials voted recently to end all commercial trash pickup and finding someone to provide the service has been left up to the individual business owners.

Town Attorney Richard Thompson said that the fee is similar to the County solid waste fee which everyone is required to pay.

He said that the fee is legal and that it is “reasonable to require everybody to be on this system.”

The fee was introduced to pay for providing household garbage pickup for the town’s residents.

A meeting on Monday, February 27 was held specifically to host a public hearing on the $14 garbage collection fee being implemented by the town, which Council unanimously approved for the third time.

Due to confusion about the date of the public hearing, a second public hearing is scheduled for the regular monthly meeting of Council which will be Monday, March 6 at 6 p.m.

Businesses in the town will also see a new $30 fee on their bill. Town officials said the first billing will be for $30, an avarage of the two fees proposed earlier. Council approved a $25 fee for businesses that have one pick up each week and $35 for two or more. Businesses can have up to three 30 gallon cans for each pickup, town officials said. Dumpster pickup by the town has been eliminated.

The proposal was voted on along with the change in water/sewer tap fees, according to Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy.

Bonnes Amies sponsors Miss Piedmont, Miss Powdersville pageant

Elizabeth Caroline Ridgeway was chosen Miss Powdersville and Farrah Danielle Norris was chosen Miss Piedmont at The Miss Piedmont/Miss Powdersville Scholarship Pageant held Sunday, Feb. 26 in the Rowell Room of the Piedmont Community Building in Downtown Piedmont.

Eight young ladies competed for the two titles which includes scholarships and the opportunity to participate in the Miss South Carolina Scholarship Pageant later this year. 

The pageant was sponsored by the Piedmont Bonnes Amies club. Former Miss South Carolina and Amazing Race contestant Kelly McCorkle emceed the event.

Ridgeway has particiapted in tap dancing for many years and studied under instructors at the Anderson School of Dance, The Dance Warehouse and Clemson Dancers. Her talent entertainment celebrated the 1980s while tapping to “Footloose”.

Norris has studied dance for 17 years including studies at Broadway Dance Center in New York City, The Edge and The Millennium in Los Angeles. She recently returned from Hollywood where she was offered a contract with MSA Talent. She performed an upbeat jazz routine to Prince’s “About that Walk.”

First runner-up was Brittany Leigh Duncan, who sang “Reflection” from the movie Mulan.

Candice Amanda Sinclair was named the Physical Fitness winner and Melody Pinion was talent winner.

Others competing in the stacked pageant were Danielle LeEllen Oslager, Emilee Suzanne Collins, and Morgan Ashley Toole.

Contestants competed in evening wear, talent, lifestyle and fitness in swimsuit and casual wear and an on stage question.

“As a role model for women, Miss Piedmont and Miss Powdersville have to be well spoken. She has to be concerned with issues facing our nation. Participation in the Miss America Program empowers young women to achieve their personal and professional goals, while providing a forum in which to use their talents and intelligence to achieve a platform dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others,” McCorkle said.

“The Miss America Organization heads 52 programs, including the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands, and hundreds of local pageants across America which combine and make available each year more that $45 million in cash and tuition scholarship assistance,” McCorkle said.

“That makes us one of the nation’s leading achievement programs, and the world’s largest provider of scholarship assistance for young women,” McCorkle said. “The winners will each receive a $400 scholarship and will assume the responsibility of a role model and leader in this area.”

Several crown winners from other areas were also present including Miss Greater Carolina Teen, Taylor Fiten; Miss Greater Carolina, Heather Peele; Miss Travelers Rest Teen, Katherine Mathis; Miss Travelers Rest, Jessica Shyter; Miss Clemson, Nicole Grubbs; Miss Greenville Teen, Libby Boerger; and Palmetto Princesses Courtney Cameron and Stephani Aliakbari.

Judges for the pageant wereGeorge Wyatt, Rhonda Robertson, Paul White, Bobby James, Cindy Bishop.

The Bonnes Amies Club was founded in 1954 by a group of “Good Friends”. The organization has taken a role of community service in the Piedmont area, providing funding for renovations of the community building, playround equipment at the Piedmont Ball Park and sponsor the Footbridge Festival and the Piedmont Christmas Parade.

County Council member takes quest for information to next level

By Stan Welch

A long running struggle between County Councilwoman Cindy Wilson and County Administrator Joey Preston escalated last Friday, when Wilson showed up at the County Finance Director’s office unexpectedly, asking to see a number of vendor files.

Wilson was accompanied by several members of the media, including a reporter for The Journal, as well as radio talk show host Rick Driver, of WAIM-AM, and Charles Crowe, who writes for the Times Examiner, a frequent critic of Preston and supporter of Wilson. Crowe, along with Peggy Taylor, who was also there, are former County Council candidates.

Wilson has sought access to routine financial records of the County for several years, in a legal struggle that began shortly after her election to the Council in 2000. She sought access to legal vendor files at that time, but her prior involvement in a series of appeals to DHEC decisions concerning the Beaverdam sewer project provided Preston with a reason to deny that access. Preston claimed attorney/client privilege, a disputed claim that he has nevertheless sustained, with the help of lawyers and a County Council that has refused to provide a majority vote requiring release of the requested information.

Wilson is currently the petitioner in a writ of mandamus case, seeking to expedite a decision in the case. Judge Buddy Nicholson, Jr. has failed to cooperate in expediting the case, however, even denying the writ of mandamus an exemption from mediation; an exemption normally granted in recognition of the writ’s intended purpose of bringing certain issues to swift conclusions.

Wilson says that Preston continues to withhold financial records from her, despite Nicholson’s ruling several months ago, that she is entitled to the general ledger reports (GLR) that are generated weekly by the finance department. She cites a memo dated January 23, which listed five weeks’ worth of GLRs which had not been provided by Preston. In addition, she claims that a number of requests for other information have also gone unanswered. Friday, her patience ran out.

She entered the courthouse, with the media accompanying her, and all members of the group signed in on the security sign in sheet. They were all issued security badges, which are now required in the building. Wilson went to the office of Finance Director Rita Davis, and asked to be shown the vendor files for Sullivan’s Grill, as well as files containing credit card records.

Sullivan’s Grill is an eatery and watering hole across the street from the Courthouse, and the site of regular gatherings of staff, Council members, and various hangers on after the bi-weekly County Council meetings. Wilson has previously expressed concerns that the County may be picking up the tab for such gatherings.

Davis explained that County policy requires that Preston review any files requested by Council members prior to the members receiving them. “We have to run anything like that by Mr. Preston before releasing it,” said Davis. Preston, in a deposition taken last fall in preparation for the writ of mandamus hearing, had stated under oath that he routinely withholds financial records from Wilson until he can review them “to see what she might throw at us next.”

County Financial Analyst Gina Humphries appeared within minutes, also telling Wilson the policy concerning the files. Wilson suggested that they call Preston, saying that she intended to see the files while she was there, and that he was welcome to join her. She spoke with Preston on the phone, at one point exclaiming, “Did you just say you don’t have time to argue with me?”

Preston then instructed Davis and Humphries to come to his office for further instructions. While they were gone, Wilson asked another employee where the files were kept. She then opened a drawer and removed some files, which she took to an empty desk, and began to read. At one point, she was heard to exclaim, “My word, we’re even paying Hooters.”

Davis and Humphries arrived to find her reviewing files and immediately protested, asking her to once again leave. She again declined.

Preston soon arrived, and sternly remonstrated with Wilson, saying “This is not the way to get this information”, to which Wilson replied, “I have tried every other way, Mr. Preston. What else would you have me do?” Preston demanded that Driver turn off a tape recorder he had, and told Wilson, “You are disrupting this office, and this is all for show.” She continued to review the files for a number of minutes after Preston withdrew and returned to his office, leaving Davis and Humphries behind to watch Wilson.

Wilson finally left, after providing Davis with a list of information which she would return for at three o’clock. As she left, she encountered Preston outside, who asked her, “Did you enjoy yourself in there?” to which she responded, “I do not enjoy this kind of thing. If information were made available as it should be, this type of thing wouldn’t be necessary.”

Wilson would later retrieve the information, only to find that it had not all been provided. She also stressed that the vendor files for Sullivan’s Grill were not in the file drawer, and were not provided later, despite being on the list. However, while at the office, both Wilson and the reporter from The Journal viewed checks in the cumulative total of several thousands of dollars, made out to Sullivan’s Grill and awaiting disbursement.

Within hours of her surprise visit, Wilson received a memo from Preston which strongly objected to her actions. Preston said that Wilson’s unannounced visit “caused a scene, upset a number of employees.” He added that Wilson bullied her way into the files. He further claimed statutory responsibility for maintaining orderly operations, and pointed out what he considered the boundaries established by home rule, under the administrator/council form of government.

He then informed Wilson that she was “not to return to the Finance Department or any other County Department in your capacity as an individual member of council. Any such requests should be made through the Administrator’s office.”

Wilson quickly fired back with a memo of her own, in which she corrected Preston, saying that the County follows the Council/Administrator form of government, and that she respects that form. She also cited several sections of state code, including one which says, “It goes without saying that members of the county council do not work for the administrator. On the contrary, under section 4-9-630, the county administrator is employed and serves at the pleasure of the county council.”

Wilson also cited sections defining the administrator’s duties, including “performing such other duties as may be required by the council.” She also cited section 4-9-650, which states,  ‘“With the exception of organizational policies established by the governing body, the county administrator shall exercise no authority over any elected officials of the county whose offices were created either by the Constitution or general law of the State.” Therefore, your insistence that I not visit any County Department without your prior authorization is a clear violation of South Carolina law.”’

She also chided Preston, saying “Your attempts to hinder an elected member of Council from reviewing the spending and financial records of Anderson County, and thus effectively to prevent her from carrying out her legal responsibility to ‘supervise the expenditure of appropriated funds’ will not and cannot be tolerated.”

Council retreat focuses on projects, operations

by Stan Welch

The Anderson County Council held its annual spring retreat Monday, and despite discussions and presentations by various department heads, virtually no work was done on the upcoming budget.

Jim Longshore, engineer for B.P. Barber, reported that the next phase of the Beaverdam sewer line will begin construction in the next few weeks. Longshore also spoke about a secondary project to install sewer in the Webb Road area, a project that would fit together nicely with a future road project to put in an exit ramp at I-85 and Cherokee Road.

Other proposed projects of local interest include the Little Beaverdam Creek interceptor, the Brushy Creek interceptor, Phase I, the Belton East and Belton West projects, and the Hurricane Creek project, which would allow for development at the intersection of Wren School Road and Highway 8. According to District 6 Councilman Bill Dees, a lack of capacity in the Wren area has already impacted two proposed shopping centers and a subdivision.

The report presented by Longshore listed seventeen proposed projects for the County’s ten year plan. The total estimated cost of all the projects is $57,634,750, including the $8.6 million cost of the Beaverdam project, which is under construction.

Environmental services director Vic Carpenter reported on the status of the County’s dispute with the Town of Williamston over reserved capacity. Carpenter stated that the County paid $500,000 in 1987 to reserve 300,000 gallons per day (gpd) in capacity in the Williamston wastewater system. “It appears to us to be clear that the Town has either sold or committed the County’s capacity without our permission. We have asked for information about this matter, but the Town has not been cooperative. We are convinced that the 300,000 gpd is not available to the county. We are still trying to determine exactly what has been done.”

Carpenter explained that reserve capacity must be maintained. “The fact that the capacity is not used has nothing to do with this. It is reserved in the event that it is needed. County administrator Joe Preston said that the Town might owe the county as much as $400,000 in terms of reimbursement.

There was a lengthy discussion of a proposal to pool all paving funds and allow the transportation department to establish a three year road plan. Several Council members were very protective of their individual paving funds, saying that surrendering control of them could result in their districts receiving less access to the funds.

Transportation Director Holt Hopkins made a strong pitch for the three year option, saying that it would allow for the most efficient and organized use of the money. He received considerable support from Councilwoman Gracie Floyd, who said that the county’s pending efforts to pass a one cent sales tax are doomed to fail unless “we get rid of these slush funds. That’s what my people are telling me. I hear it every where I go.”

Floyd also derided the notion that the funds should be kept separate. “We don’t each control our own sewer money separately. Why do that with our paving funds?”

Councilman Fred Tolly made his position clear. “I’ll tell you now, Holt, don’t go putting my money in any pot.” Councilwoman Cindy Wilson proposed allocating more money from the general fund for using in paving.

Council also heard from economic development director John Lummus that the County had a good year in attracting investment. “We attracted $162 million in new investment, which ranked us fifth in the state and second in the Upstate area. We had two new industries come in, and four plant expansions.” Lummus also explained that the County’s target industries are in the automotive, plastics, advanced materials, and distribution fields.

Lummus also stated the County’s commitment to keeping a CSX railway that runs from Williamston to Honea Path open. (See related story elsewhere in this issue.)

Tommy Thompson spoke to Council about the need for the 800 megahertz radio system, informing them that it would cost megabucks. The cost of the system, when fully installed, and including amortization, would exceed $18 million, and would involve building four towers. “That system would give us almost 100% coverage on in car communications, and 70% on walkie talkies. It would cost a million dollars a year to maintain system, and will cover everyone in the county, including maintenance crews and road crews.”

Two District One schools were finalists For Palmetto’s Finest Award

Representatives of two Anderson District One schools, Palmetto Elementary and Palmetto High School, traveled to the Koger Center for the Arts in Columbia Tuesday anticipating whether either of the schools would be one of the winners of the Carolina First Palmetto’s Finest Awards.

Neither school was awarded the honor but representative of both schools were proud to be finalists among twelve schools from across the state selected for the award. School administrators, parents, teachers and students attended the award banquet.

Finalists were chosen based on extensive evaluations by fellow educators. The application process includes elements on student achievement, faculty training, program goals and teaching quality, office practices, and community involvement.

 Last fall, Palmetto Elementary and Palmetto High submitted a 20-page application and received an on site visit by a review committee. Each of the twelve finalists are now undergoing a second onsite evaluation.

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.

Jerome Hudson, Principal of Palmetto Elementary said, “It is certainly an honor to be a finalist for two consecutive years. It is further evidence of the quality of the instruction program and students in our community. We are already winners by the factor of being selected to attend the celebration.”

Director of Elementary Education Jane Harrison, states, “The school is a model of a true community of learners. During any visit to the school, you will find parent volunteers or community members sharing the same goal of assisting each student in achieving their highest potential.” 

“I am very proud of our first attempt to be a finalist and receive a second visit,” states Dr. Mason Gary, principal at Palmetto High.

The 12 finalists are: Palmetto Elementary, Anderson 1; Palmetto High, Anderson 1; Doby’s Mill Elementary, Kershaw County; Forest Lake Elementary, Richland 2; Myrtle Beach Intermediate, Horry; New Prospect Elementary, Spartanburg 1; Blythewood Middle, Richland 2; Northwest Middle, Greenville; Carvers Bay, Georgetown; Gaffney High, Cherokee County; Greenville Technical Charter School, Greenville County and Waccamaw Bay, Georgetown. 

Local runners pace Winthrop DMR team To Big South Championship

The Winthrop University men’s distance medley relay (DMR) team won the Southern Conference championship for the event during the Big South Indoor Track and Field Championships held Feb. 24-25 in Clemson.

The DMR team is comprised of former Palmetto track standout Justin Meade and Wren track standout Brad Orr, along with teammates Brandon Galbraith and Derrick Zinnerman. The Eagle DMR team took topped the field in a near school record time of 10:18.53.

Orr, a Sophomore, followed up his DMR performance with a fourth place finish in the mile, finishing in a time of 4:18.04, while Zinnerman, a Junior, backed up his DMR with a seventh place finish in the 800 meters in 1:58.87. Meade, a Sophomore,  finished 10th in the mile with a time of 4:29.18. He was also named to the Big South All-Academic Team.

The Big South Championships ended the Eagles indoor track season. They will open the outdoor season March 17 at the Alabama Relays.

Seems to Me . . .
I thought I’d seen ’bout everything

By Stan Welch

Do you remember a scene in the Disney flick Dumbo, where the elephants panic over a mouse, and end up burning the circus tent down? In the melee and confusion, Dumbo flies and ends up perched the next morning on a power pole. A bunch of crows fly in and sing this great tune that went like this:  “I thought I’d seen ‘bout everything, till I seen an elephant fly.”

Well, I kind of know how those crows felt. I guess most of you have heard about a visit that District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson paid to the historic County Courthouse last Friday. She, along with members of the media, as well as one interested citizen, visited the finance office, where Wilson sought access to several vendor files. Foremost among those was the file for Sullivan’s Grill, a very nice bar and eatery that is right across the street from the courthouse; and a place where County Administrator Joey Preston is a familiar presence.

He, along with various County staffers, assorted groupies and hangers on, and usually at least two Council members, can be found every other Tuesday night, following the County Council meeting. To be accurate, they can also be found there in various combinations on almost any day between Council meetings, as well.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Just some grown adults having a few drinks and unwinding after a 12 or 14 hour workday. I’ve been known to walk over and have a couple myself. But Ms. Wilson has the idea that public funds may be used to pick up the tab for these little gatherings. So she wanted to see the vendor files, as well as some credit card accounts. So she went to where one might expect such records to be kept. Makes sense.

Rita Davis, finance director, gave Wilson the company line about Mr. Preston having to review all such files before they could be seen by Wilson, or any other Council member. Wilson, who has been locked in a legal battle with Preston over access to such files for more than four years, and who had clearly decided to take the conflict to another level, refused to be brushed off. Davis was joined by Gina Humphries, financial analyst, within four minutes (by my watch) of Wilson’s entry into the office. She repeated the policy concerning the files, at which time Wilson suggested they call Mr. Preston, which they did.

He instructed them to inform Wilson that she could leave a list of requested information, and they would assemble it for her by three o’clock that afternoon. Having seen that movie before, and knowing how it would turn out, Wilson declined the offer, and insisted on seeing the files immediately. Preston summoned Davis and Humphries to his office to strategize, a move that would prove unwise to say the least.

While they were gone, Wilson determined where the information was kept and went to those files, where she began removing files and placing them on a vacant desk. She began to study the files, and had several minutes alone before Davis and Humphries returned to find her, much to their chagrin.

Again, they tried to dissuade her from reviewing the files; again, she refused to yield an advantage she had sought for so long. Within minutes, Preston came in and demanded several times that she leave. She again refused. At no time did she raise her voice or become histrionic in any way. She simply and firmly insisted on what she, and two state attorney generals by the way, consider to be her right; that of access to the county’s financial records.

Preston finally withdrew from the field in defeat, having instructed Davis and Humphries to remain with Wilson while she reviewed the materials. A short time later, Wilson presented them with a list of records she wished to retrieve at three o’clock , and left the office. She, and those who had witnessed the extraordinary events of the past hour, returned the security badges they had been issued upon signing into the courthouse, and left the building.

Make no mistake. The events I witnessed were extraordinary, for one simple reason. I know of no other County in the state in which such actions by a seated and duly elected member of County Council would have had to resort to such tactics. It has been, since I came to Anderson County, and continues to be, a source of absolute amazement to me to watch Preston’s heavy handed and indefensible refusal to provide what is without argument, public information.

Within hours of leaving the Courthouse, Wilson received a letter from Preston, reprimanding her for her actions and essentially banning her from the finance office, or any other County office, in her capacity as an individual member of Council. Stay with me, folks. This is where the elephant starts to get airborne.

Joey Preston has connived and manipulated and spent public money for years in an effort to deny Wilson access to records concerning his management of public funds. While in the finance office Friday, both Wilson and I saw checks in sizable amounts, that had been cut, and were waiting to be sent to Sullivan’s Grill. There were others for Hooters, E City Java, and other local eateries. While not damning in themselves, the expenditures do lend credence to Wilson’s opinion that such funds may be improperly spent on such purposes.

Nevertheless, Preston’s attempt to ban an elected public official from the county courthouse, unless he has granted her permission to enter, is both absurd and arrogant beyond explanation.

For that matter, it seems to me that no citizen of Anderson County should have to tell the park police officer at the sign-in desk which of the departments he or she is going to visit. That is no one’s business but the citizen’s. Signing in meets any reasonable security demand; especially in light of the fact that the real courthouse across the street makes no such demand. People enter through a metal detector, and then go where they wish.

Preston has constantly stretched the envelope of home rule, and the Council/administrator form of government to its limits. But this time, he and the 10 ton elephant that is his ego, have defied the laws of gravity. Yessir, I believe I seen ‘bout everything, since I’ve seen an elephant fly.

 

 

 

 

Williamston wrap - developments concerning the Town of Williamston financial crisis since January 2006

February 13 -
Council finds details, changes not as easy as expected

February 8 -
Council approves increases for businesses, residents
Councilman Cothran resigns
Thursday work session sets stage for Monday’s meeting
Business pickup trashed
Resignation will lead to May election
Petition being circulated

January 30 -
Town might not make payroll by March
Citizens call for resignation, mayor declines
Council to make recommendations at Thursday worksession

January 25 - 
Town taking steps to deal with serious financial crisis
January 16 -
“The town will come through this” ACOG official says
Week of Jan 11 -
Williamston finances worse than expected
Withholding payments could result in tax lien
Williamston residents express concerns at Council meeting

Week of Jan. 4 

Williamston continues operations at 2005 budget
Williamston’s 2006 budget shows $350,000 increase
Enterprise fund budget is $1.4 million

 

 

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