News Archive

(1008) Week of Mar. 5, 2008

Fishing with the pros
Civil War cannon to stay local; mayor, council fire shots
Opponents organizing to fight C&D landfill in Slabtown/Powdersville area
New jail not expected to be on capital projects list
Local Capital projects list
Audit report shows room for improvements
Sheriff’s candidate brings new ideas with campaign
West Pelzer meeting location to be announced
Rebate stimulus checks can be expected by May
Lack of oversight in county spending may be addressed
Seems to Me . . . Promoting balloon fest

Fishing with the pros

Though Tony Riddle has spent enough time on the water to quality as a pro angler in the eyes of many, he recently found out first hand what it is like to really fish like one.

An avid fisherman who participates in local tournaments and fishes throughout the year,  Tony and son Jason, were honored to be selected to serve as volunteers with the Bassmaster Classic professional fishing tournament held on Lake Hartwell.

Both men were observers and drivers for several of the top professional fishermen in the world, including the eventual winner.

Ask any fisherman. Fishing for eight solid hours can make for a long day. Watching someone else fish for eight hours can make for an even longer day.

As observers  they rode in the boat and watched the pros fish throughout the day. They didn’t fish. They just watched.  And they loved it.

But that is not all volunteers do. They also get to drive the pro anglers to and from the lake each day.

Assignments are drawn at random each morning of the tournament.

As drivers they chauffered a tournament sponsored vehicle which took the pro and his boat to Portman Marina for a day of fishing on Lake Hartwell and back to Greenville at the end of the day.

“We had a ball doing this,” Riddle, (obviously still excited from the experience), said. “It was tiresome as well.”

Tournament days start well before dawn and end late in the evening. 

The schedule demanded they get up at 3 a.m., meet with other volunteers for assignments at 4:30 a.m., and drive the pros to the lake for a 7:15 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. departure.

They go with the pro out on the water during the tournament, return by 3:15 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. and drive back to Greenville for the weigh in.

Before the weigh in, the vehicle and boat must be washed and prepped. 

Sometimes volunteers have to give up their spots as observers to members of the media. This happened to Jason on Saturday, forcing him to give some time  as an observer with the biggest name in fishing, at least for now, while film crews were with him.

Jason was selected as driver and observer for Alton Jones of Waco Texas. Jones went on to win the tournament on Sunday.

Volunteers for the four day tournament received a tournament jacket, a hat and a Mustang life preserver, which was required while on the lake.

Many of the volunteers, like Riddle, are avid weekend tournament anglers. In addition to being more than willing to give up a day at work, most  would probably be willing to pay for the chance to spend two or three days on the water with the pros.

It works out well for the volunteers and the tournament organizers.

Paying people to prep and drive the boats and the pros to and from the launch sites and spend a day on the water would cost the organizers a lot of money.

Volunteers have the opportunity to spend a day with some of the biggest names in the sport. 

They may learn something by watching the pros in action. If nothing else, they have a good story to tell their fishing buddies.  

Either way, they appreciate the time they get to spend with guys who are doing what most of them would love to be doing.

Tony, who fishes with the Pelzer Bass Club (formerly the Fishing Hole Bass Club), said when he found out the tournament was being held on Lake Hartwell, he immediately contacted the organizers about being a volunteer.

He soon heard back that he and his son were going to be among the volunteers selected to help with the tournament.

During the event, Tony drove and observed with Jeff Creek, Isham Monroe and Gary Klein.

Jason fished with Mike Bastings of Oregon, Mike Haimes of Minn. and drove for Alton Jones, the overall winner of the prestigious tournment.

In addition to the excitement of participating in the “Super Bowl” of fishing tournament, Jason turned 35 on Wednesday. His dad had his yellow tournament hat signed by all but five of the pros and gave it to Jason for a birthday present.

Even though the demands of the experience were tough, the Riddles, like all of the volunteers, loved it. Tony said he definitely would do it again.

It makes for a great fish tale. Just ask him. He’ll be glad to tell you all about the time he went fishing with the pros.

Civil War cannon to stay local; mayor, council fire shots

By Stan Welch

The Williamston Town Council decided to keep the Town’s cannon, to assume responsibility for maintaining the grave of the Town’s founder, and to spend more than $100,000 putting in lights on the ball fields behind Town Hall.

They also appointed a two man committee to begin screening approximately twenty applications for the job of Town Administrator. Councilmen David Harvell and Carthel Crout were chosen by the Council to begin screening the applications.

Cannon to stay
SCV to restore

Three written proposals for the restoration and display of the Town’s brass Civil War Cannon were reviewed. Camp #43 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans proposed restoring the cannon, as well as constructing a historically accurate gun carriage and additional accoutrements to allow the gun to be displayed and fired at Civil War reenactments, as well as at other special events, such as the Spring Water Festival. The estimated cost for the entire project is $30,000. The cannon is valued at between $100,000 and $300,000.

The Anderson County Museum also offered to restore the cannon, in exchange for being authorized to place it on display at the museum in Anderson.

In the end, Council voted to retain possession of the cannon, while enlisting the SCV’s assistance in restoring and displaying the weapon, while making it available to the Camp for use approximately a dozen times a year. The Camp’s expertise in handling, transporting, and firing similar cannons, as well as their willingness to invest in the project, were the deciding factors.

As Councilman Marion Middleton Jr. said, “I don’t want to see you gentlemen leave this room with thirty thousand dollars in your pocket.”

Mayor Phillip Clardy immediately assigned the Camp’s experts to the task of relocating the cannon, which is currently exposed to the elements in its location behind the Town Hall.

Grant funds appropriated

Council also decided to spend approximately $119,000 in grant funds obtained from the state on installing lights on the girls softball field and the PeeWee field at the location behind the Town Hall. The grant received with the assistance of Sen. Billy O’Dell totaled $165,000.

An additional $11,200 is slated for putting sod on the girls softball field; $8000 for renovations on the Scout Hut; $11,000 to reimburse monies spent by the Mission Jerusalem project on park improvements in recent months; and $11,800 to resurface and stripe two basketball courts.

Pursuant to a motion by Councilman Middleton, Council voted to divert $10,000 to the replacement of a drain pipe that runs the length of the park, along the railroad track.

The Council also voted to place the responsibility for maintenance on West Allen Williams’ gravesite under the Town Parks Department. 

Crosswalk concerns

Several members of the business community were on hand as Councilman Crout raised concerns about the amount of parking space taken up by the SCDOT’s recent efforts to mark and establish the pedestrian crosswalk on Main Street.

Crout said that nearly five parking spaces had been lost instead of the two or three DOT had mentioned.

Crout wanted the Council to appeal the SCDOT actions and seek to have the crosswalk placed at the traffic light instead.

The downtown streetscape project currently calls for the crosswalk to remain where it is with additional improvements. that will replace the temporary work recently done by SCDOT.

Crout, Clardy spar

In between all these decisions, Mayor Clardy and Councilman Carthel Crout continued to spar over a variety of issues. Mayor Clardy presented a three page letter, along with a packet of documentation, which he said refuted Councilman Crout’s allegations that the Town staff and Mayor weren’t following proper procedures on signing checks.

In his letter, Clardy referred to the February 18 Council meeting in which Crout alleged that Clardy and the staff were not “following the rules”. Clardy presented minutes of prior meetings which indicated that a proposed ordinance requiring the signing of checks by two Council members and the Town treasurer had been tabled after receiving only one of the two readings required for adoption.

Clardy argued that the requirement in effect is the one put in place by resolution on Feb. 6, 2006 which established the identity of four people, any two of which will be required to personally sign Williamston Town checks. These individuals would be the Mayor, the Mayor protem, the City Clerk/Treasurer and former employee Bennie Hyder. This motion was unanimously passed.

Clardy also stated that a member of Council, who was not named in the letter, had used a barnyard epithet in talking to the staff, saying that a certain situation was  “bull_____.”

Crout said he felt the Mayor was pointing that at him, and denied uttering the second syllable of the word. “I may have said bull, although I don’t think so. But I did not say the other part,” said Crout.

Clardy also stated his feeling that Council has no need to sign payroll checks. “I have listened to the dialogue concerning check signing and it has always been about accounts payable, not payroll. In addition, payroll checks include private information such as HIPPA information and things like child support withholdings. This information is private and in some cases actually protected.”

He went on to say that he considered a series of recent actions by Council to comprise “an attempt to usurp the form of our municipal government from its Mayor/Council form to a strictly Council form of government. With all due respect the residents of Williamston clearly made a reaffirmed decision only a few years ago on their position on this matter. And I would further caution the possible infringement into the duties and responsibilities that I have been vested with as mayor by South Carolina state law.”

Crout argued that the Council needed to remain closely involved in the process, saying that Clardy’s continued use of a cell phone paid for by the Town would have gone undiscovered otherwise.

“We voted to give you a month to find a different program, not six months. I have no problem with you having a cell phone. The Mayor needs one. But I do have a problem with a bill of $150 a month.”

Opponents organizing to fight C&D landfill in Slabtown/Powdersville area

By Stan Welch

The resistance to a proposed C&D landfill in the Slabtown area is taking on all the signs of an all out assault. 

The proposed landfill would be located approximately a mile from the intersection of Hwy. 88 and Hamlin Road. The 196 acre tract is rolling terrain which is bounded on two sides by small streams. As a C&D (construction and demolition) site, it would accept only debris and building materials, not household garbage.

Still, the landfill, which was originally turned down in 2005, by SCDHEC, after Anderson County said it did not fit their solid waste management plan, has drawn the ire of many area residents. The developers of the site, Greenpointe, LLC and Greenville businessman Robert Jenkins, appealed DHEC’s denial and were upheld by an administrative court, which ordered DEHC to resume the permitting process.

 District Six Councilman Ron Wilson, still smarting from the political beating he took when he briefly championed district wide zoning last year, has moved to the forefront of the opposition.

In a recent telephone interview, he explained the various prongs of the attack on the landfill. When local residents became aware of the permitting process just weeks ago, they immediately began organizing. The original deadline of March 8 for public comment has been extended for a month, until April 7. “That was an important first step because it lets these folks get organized a little better,” said Wilson.

Senator Kevin Bryant and Rep. Dan Cooper have both introduced bills into their respective Houses seeking a moratorium on all C&D landfills until some regulatory confusion is clarified, said Wilson.

“We are also trying to accelerate a study on weight limits on the affected roads and bridges,” said Wilson. “The kind of trucks we are talking about  will have a tremendous impact on those roads.”

Wilson, who has reason to be leery of the word zoning nonetheless points out that local residents have circulated the necessary petitions and acquired more than enough signatures to seek zoning in that particular precinct. Precinct zoning by referendum is the existing means of zoning in Anderson County. Wilson, at the request of some citizens last year, proposed radical changes in that process, changes that brought hundreds of opponents to the public meetings held on the issue.

The procedure being followed currently is the more surgical approach, allowing the residents of a smaller area to change or protect the nature of their area.

“The names will be turned over to Jeff Ricketson, Director of Planning, and verified as to the residence within the precinct. Then, I think the plan is to get the referendum question on the ballot with the school bond issue in March.”

In that regard Wilson is mistaken. Ricketson explained that any possible chance of getting the question on a referendum has passed. “Referendums can only be conducted once a quarter, and require ninety days notice. Clearly, our window for this quarter is closed.”

New jail not expected to be on capital projects list

By Stan Welch

According to members of the Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission members, Sheriff David Crenshaw will have to look elsewhere to fund jail improvements or construction, even if the controversial sales tax is approved.

Anderson County transportation director Holt Hopkins, along with Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission members Rusty Burns and Dick Bales, made that clear at a recent public meeting held at the Powdersville Library to receive public input on the proposed tax.

 “At the first meeting the Commission had, the Sheriff appeared before us and asked us to consider such a project,” said Burns, who also served on the CPST Commission in 2006. “We asked how much the new jail would cost and he couldn’t tell us. We asked where it would be built, and he couldn’t tell us. I think the first official act of the Commission was to decide to use the funds for roads and bridges, and some possible buildings, but not for a jail. That would seem to be a dead issue right now”

Hopkins seemed fine with that idea, saying, “I can use every penny on roads and bridges. I currently have an annual budget of $13 million for the roads, bridges, maintenance, mowing, salaries, the whole deal. This money would make a huge difference, even though it still won’t address all out needs,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins said that the total budget includes $3 million for paving, and an additional million dollars to try and replace or repair two bridges a year. He also stated that the county currently has seventy bridges which fail to meet standards of adequacy. “That’s a long time at two bridges a year,” said Hopkins.

Approximately a dozen people attended, not counting media, commission members, Councilman Ron Wilson and candidates John Skipper (Sheriff) and Sarah Drawdy (Solicitor).

The tax, if approved by Council and later by a referendum during the general election in November, is expected to generate $148 million during its seven year life. Burns pointed out that the tax automatically comes off after either seven years or the projected amount is collected. “I would anticipate that Anderson County would collect that much in less than seven years.”

 Burns added that, were the tax to be repeated, the entire exploratory and referendum process would be involved, with a whole new list of prioritized projects. “York County fought this tax tooth and nail the first time it passed. It squeaked by. Seven years later, it was repeated and passed by a resounding margin, because the saw results on the ground, and they liked what they saw. I think that would prove to be the case here as well.”

 One issue which Commissioners said has come up at nearly every meeting is the issue of accountability for the funds. Citizens have raised questions about whether they can count on the money being properly used and accounted for. “There is a real issue of public trust in this County right now, and it has to be taken into account as we move forward,” said Commissioner Bales, who represents the Powdersville area.

 According to the state law that establishes such a sales tax option, all funds are handled by the state. In addition, the prioritized list of projects which would be presented to County Council for consideration cannot be altered by the Council. They can simply vote to approve or refuse the proposed referendum question as framed and presented by the Commission.

 Hopkins acknowledged the trust issue, saying that while there may be some waste in the county government, it certainly doesn’t approach the amounts the tax promises to generate. “There’s some waste everywhere. But this kind of money simply isn’t laying around just anywhere. I would also recommend, upon approval of the tax, that a bond be issued to get the work started, and let the tax revenues pay the bond off. That way, we can get started while materials are cheaper than they will be later.”

 He also mentioned that the Commission might recommend that the County Council appoint an oversight committee to review the projects and their progress, as well as account for the funds. “A percentage of the funds generated might even be spent to fund the position of an independent auditor to oversee the expenditures.”

 Hopkins pointed out that the tax will not apply to groceries, and would not be imposed until May of next year. According to studies, those living outside Anderson County would provide approximately 38% of the revenues generated, or approximately $56 million.

 The full commission will hold a series of six meetings prior to April 10, during which they will prioritize a list of projects to be presented to Council. “We want every part of this County to see projects on the list that they can say will improve their areas. That’s why we have been having these meetings,” said Hopkins.

Local Capital projects list

By Stan Welch

The Capital Project Sales Tax Commission has been holding a series of meetings across the County, seeking public input into a potential list of projects to be funded by the sales tax if it passes (see related story elsewhere in this issue). This list of projects in The Journal’s readership area is strictly preliminary, provided by those attending the meetings. The full Commission will meet over the next several weeks, and whittle the list down, prioritizing the projects they retain.

 

Benton Rd. – Belton

Blake Dairy Rd. –Belton

Bowen Rd. – Hopewell

Cely Rd. Powdersville

Clamp Dr. –Craytonville

Crestview Rd. - Hammond School

Fire Tower Rd. – Craytonville

I-85/SC Hwy. 153 Intersection – Powdersville

I-85 and SC Hwy. 86 Intersection – Piedmont

Ida Tucker Rd. Ext. – Williamston

Joe Black Rd. – Williamston/West Pelzer

Long Rd. – Piercetown

McGee Rd. – Hopewell

Major Rd. & Moore Rd. – Brushy Creek

Midway Rd. #1 – Hammond School, Hopewell, Piercetown , White Plains

Midway Rd. #2 – same areas

Midway Rd. #3 – same areas

(These three projects would include widening the road, intersection improvements, bicycle access on shoulders, and other improvements)

Mt. Airy Church Rd. – Powdersville

N. Shirley Avenue – Chiquola Mills

New Hope Rd. – Green Pond, Lakeside

Piedmont Rd. - Powdersville, Concrete

Ridge Rd. – Three & Twenty

Rouse St. – Chiquola Mill

Saluda Dr. – Simpsonville

SC Hwy. 8 and St. Paul Intersection – Three & Twenty

SC Hwy. 20 – Williamston

SC Hwy 252 – Chiquola Mill, Honea Path

Mt. View Rd., Three and Twenty Rd. SC Hwy. 88 – Three & Twenty

Sewer Line – Williamston, W. Pelzer, Pelzer

School D1 – Sidewalks near all schools

School D2 – Sidewalks near all schools

Smoak Dr. – Concrete

Taylor Rd. - Friendship  

Three Bridges Rd. – Powdersville

Timms Rd. – Mt. Airy

U.S. 76 near BHP High School

U.S. 76 and Westinghouse Rd. – Piedmont

Walker Rd. - Piercetown

Audit report shows room for improvements

By Stan Welch

 Once again, Anderson County received an unqualified opinion from the firm which audited the County’s financial reporting efforts last year. But the firm’s president also reported that there are significant improvements that could and should be made in the County’s records keeping system.

An unqualified opinion indicates that the auditors found no material errors in the reporting of the County’s finances. 

Larry Finney of Greene, Finney & Horton began his presentation by explaining that the audit is based on the County’s financial statements. “The financial statements are the responsibility of the County. We express our opinion on whether they are fairly stated. The balances and amounts in the financial statements are fairly stated in their material aspects.”

 Finney also explained that the audit is conducted to a level of reasonable assurance, and not absolute assurance. “To provide absolute assurance would mean that every transaction was audited. What we do is audit one hundred per cent of the material transactions, and sample the population of non-material transactions.”

 He further explained that the definition of a material transaction is determined by a formula that varies from account to account. “For some accounts, a five thousand dollar transaction might be material, while a thirty thousand dollar transaction might not meet the definition in a different account.”

Council members Bill McAbee and Gracie Floyd, along with County Administrator Joey Preston, were not in attendance.

 Councilman Ron Wilson, who made the issue of a full arm’s length audit a key part of his successful campaign for the District Six council seat in 2006, said that while an audit offering absolute assurance might cost a half million dollars, it might be time to reconsider such an undertaking. “We may be at the point in this county where that is the only thing that will satisfy people.”( Editor’s note: In last year’s budget calculations, a mil was estimated to be worth $511,000.) Wilson went on to say that he wanted no halfway measure. “It’s time for these allegations to stop. If we do this, let’s go all the way.”

Councilman Larry Greer also stated that if any review beyond the scope of the regular audit were to be pursued, he too would like to see a full audit. “We have had allegations about every audit we have done. Let’s get this settled and move on.”

Councilman Bob Waldrep has asked about an alternative called expanded procedures which would allow Council to pinpoint areas within the finance department to receive additional scrutiny, without incurring the maximum expense of a full audit.

Finney also addressed the question of the potential for fraud. He listed the six most common means of controlling or detecting fraud as tips from employees and others, accidental detection, internal audits, internal controls, external audit, and police investigation. The means are listed in their order of effectiveness, starting with tips.

Finney went so far as to recommend a tips hotline that would allow for those with information to make it known without being placed at risk. He also recommended the employment of an internal auditor, a recommendation then Council Chairman Waldrep made several months ago, without success. “Eighty per cent of fraud is detected from within, which proves the value of the internal controls that should be in place.”

 When asked by Councilman Ron Wilson if he really thought an internal auditor, independent from the administrator, would be useful, Finney did not hesitate. “Absolutely. It is a crucial element to have an objective viewpoint, from someone who’s not caught up in the daily details of handling all these transactions.”

 Finney also stated that the County’s policy and procedures manual was not being adhered to, and needed updating. In discussing the possibility of implementing enterprise risk management and fraud risk management programs, he said it was important to know what sort of ethical tone was being set at the top of the management structure.

 Finney also reported that changes in the County procurement policy should be implemented. “We pay close attention to procurement in all of the organizations we audit, because there is a higher risk of fraud in that area generally speaking.

The County should look at making some changes, such as insuring that vendors who bid are well qualified to perform the job they are bidding on. The vendors should also maintain an independence from the County.”

Sheriff’s candidate brings new ideas with campaign

By Stan Welch

Dennis Gough, the third announced candidate for the job of Anderson County Sheriff, sees the job more as an administrative challenge than as a law enforcement one.

“The road officers do seventy per cent of the work. The sheriff needs to make sure thy have what they need to do the job, including high morale and recognition of their efforts, especially in financial terms,” Gough (pronounced goff) said in a recent interview with The Journal.

Gough spent twenty years as a railroad detective, a job he emphasizes is more than adequate preparation for law enforcement work. “I have people tell me all the time that I was just a security guard. I carried a federal patch as a railroad detective, and handled cases from DUIs to murders to rape. I was commissioned by the state of Indiana, and also assisted two local town police forces when I was needed.”

Gough clearly offers an alternative to the law enforcement philosophies presented by the other candidates, incumbent David Crenshaw and John Skipper, a former member of the Gene Taylor administration. Gough is a disciple of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has become famous for his tent city jails and his use of pink clothing and surroundings to control the inmates.

His no frills approach, which includes lots of bologna sandwiches, no TV, and almost no amenities for inmates, has drawn both criticism and praise. It is clear which side Gough comes down on. “I have been in contact with Sheriff Arpaio for several months and will be traveling to Arizona in May to visit his facility and see firsthand how he runs the operation. I see no reason a similar approach wouldn’t work here.”

“I would use tent barracks and plenty of barbed wire. I would use non-violent trusties to meet 95% of the staffing needs. There is no need to keep using the people of Anderson County and their pocketbooks as the cure all for every problem. The jail and the department itself need to be run like a business. That’s what I would do.”

Among innovations Gough suggests is a major change in the nature of the Sheriff’s sizable fleet of cruisers. “Why does every employee need a big old Crown Vic or a Tahoe or Denali? Process servers can drive four cylinder cars. Detectives can drive four and six cylinder cars. I estimate that the department could save as much as $250 a day on fuel and insurance costs. Why not?”

Gough would increase the K-9 units in the county. “Those are a valuable resource. When you move K-9 units into a trouble area, such as the south end of the county, the criminals move. Why? They know the dogs will fund their drugs, and they know the dogs are bad news. Nobody wants to fight a cop with a K-9 partner. A K-9 team gives you two cops for not much more than the cost of one.”

He would also establish an incentive program for those officers meeting certain physical fitness standards. “Police officers should be in shape, and not overweight. Why should a guy who’s thirty pounds overweight and can’t catch anyone on foot get paid the same as a guy who has a real physical presence and who can fully perform his duties?”

Gough says he will work for a dollar a year, and will publish a budget report for the department each quarter. “We’re in a recession already and it’s likely to get worse. I think it’s time to tighten the reins and cut these costs. I will try my best to turn a profit at the Sheriff’s department. By that I mean stay in budget, and I will make that budget when I am Sheriff. I will also set law enforcement priorities, and one of them will be to prepare the department for what I see coming.”

One challenge Gough sees coming is the emergence of the MS13 Mexican gangs. “These guys are already in the Upstate area, but they aren’t well organized yet. But I dealt with them in Indiana, and they are ruthless. They make the Bloods and Crips look like Girl Scouts.”

He sees the issue of illegal immigration as a serious one overall. “The strains that the illegal immigrants are putting on our country and its economy are tremendous, and growing every day. To say that those challenges don’t affect local law enforcement is absurd.”

Gough pledges leadership through example. “I was a Fraternal Order of Police Representative for years,and defended street cops against the kinds of complaints that make law enforcement more difficult. At the same time, if you get caught sleeping in your cruiser or in the back seat with some gal, then there’s very little defense. I’m a fair minded guy who respects the patrol officers who carry the load in law enforcement. If I am elected, we won’t have all this house cleaning going on, because I don’t owe anyone anything. If you’re a good cop, you’ll keep your job. If you’re not, you better get good.”

West Pelzer meeting location to be announced

By Stan Welch

The controversial decision of a majority of West Pelzer’s Town Council to abolish the Town’s police department continues to spark controversy, despite the fact that the decision was voided because it was improperly enacted.

The unexpected and abrupt motion and vote was not valid since the department was established by an ordinance, and has to be abolished by the same process. That includes producing an ordinance abolishing the department, and giving that ordinance two separate readings and approvals. One of those readings must follow a public hearing.

A subsequent public meeting, unattended by the three man majority which made the aborted decision, drew well over a hundred people, who overwhelmingly opposed the majority action. A similar turnout is expected at the public hearing, which hasn’t been scheduled yet. A public hearing must be advertised fifteen days in advance. Since the next regular meeting of the Town Council comes on March 10, it would seem that March 25 is the earliest a second reading can be given.

Even the location of the March 10 meeting is causing controversy. Mayor Peggy Paxton has scheduled it to be held at the fire station in anticipation of a large turnout. Unconfirmed reports indicate that the three members who made the attempt to abolish the department will instead assemble at the Town Hall rather than at the fire station. State law states that notice of the meeting time and place must be made public 24 hours in advance. The Journal will post the location on our website when it is announced to us.

Mayor Paxton says she has the right as the Town’s chief administrative officer to relocate the meeting. “I think it’s clear that the public is interested in this issue and wants tobe heard. To force dozens of citizens to remain outside because Town Hall is too small for them denies them the right to attend a public meeting. I won’t do that. They deserve to be heard, whether we like what they say or not.”

Rebate stimulus checks can be expected by May

The Federal government recently approved a stimulus payment rebate  which will allow tax rebates ranging from $300 to $1,200 to millions of Americans.

Other than a few guidelines, the primary requirement to receive a check is you must file a 2007 tax return.

Rebates are expected to begin being mailed out by May of this year. Government officials are hoping the money will be spent, energizing the national economy and hopefully avoiding a recession, if there isn’t one already.

The recently passed legislation included a $168 billion rescue package that includes rebates for individuals and tax breaks for businesses to spur investment in new plants and equipment.

The package also includes provisions to help struggling homeowners caught by the housing market collapse and the tightening credit refinance into more affordable mortgages.

Most people who pay taxes or earn at least $3,000 will be eligible for the tax rebate check.

Persons receiving social security or veterans’ disability benefits will also qualify.

Singles making more that $75,000 and couples with combined income of more than $150,000 will get smallest checks.

Two groups of persons are eligible for the rebates, the no tax liability group and the tax liablilty group. 

To be eligible, persons in both groups must file a 2007 tax return. Guidelines include: 

The person filing the return can not be claimed as a dependent on another return. 

A person or spouse must have at least $3000 in Social Security, railroad or Veterans income in 2007.

Must have at least $3000 earned income in 2007 which must be stated on a W-2. If on a 1099 or sole proprietorship, the Self Employment Tax is due and could be more than $450 SE tax to get $300.

Qualified person should receive $300 single or $600 joint plus $300 for each child claimed under the age of 17.

If you are in the tax liability group, to be elgible you must file a regular tax return for 2007 and cannot be claimed as a dependent on another return.

Persons with small tax liabilities will also be eligible. Married couples with at least a $1 tax liability on their tax return will get a $600 max per person ($1200 joint) if their income tops $17,500, and $300 per child under 17 that is claimed. Singles will get at least $300 if they made more than $8,750.

The death of a return filer in 2007 or 2008 does not stop eligibility.

Unemployment income is not considered earned income for this group.

You will also need a social security number to get a rebate.

Local tax offices are offering special rates, and in some cases free services, to persons who normally do not file a tax return.

For additional advice, please see a tax professional.

Lack of oversight in county spending may be addressed

By Stan Welch

Even as the Anderson County Council moved smoothly through the agenda at Tuesday night’s meeting, the issue of a dwindling public trust in the county administration and the County Council provided a constant undercurrent.

An unusual string of unanimous votes, which gave first, second and third readings, respectively to a series of proposed ordinances, ended abruptly when Councilman Greer introduced an ordinance to establish an oversight committee to review and supervise the expenditure of the revenues produced by a proposed one cents sales tax.

The proposed ordinance would also use a portion of the funds to hire an independent auditor who would track the expenditures and produce a quarterly report on the progress of the various projects.

Greer explained that he was introducing the ordinance at the request of members of the Capital Projects Sales Tax Commission, which is tasked with producing a referendum question to be presented to the County Council later this spring.

That question would include a prioritized list of projects to be funded by the tax, which is projected to produce approximately $148 million over its seven year life. (For more details on the tax and how the referendum question will be created, see related story elsewhere in this issue.)

Several members of that six man Commission have said that the biggest obstacle they face in building public support for this tax is the public’s distrust of the County government and how it handles and accounts for the money it already receives.

At a recent meeting in Powdersville to receive public input Commission members Dick Bales and Rusty Burns both said that they repeatedly heard comments from the public that they had no intentions of giving more money to the County until a more complete and public accounting was made about such matters as the use of County credit cards.

Members of the sparse audience at that meeting also made such statements, saying that the current administration, both elected and bureaucratic, had mishandled public money. They also talked about the ongoing controversy about Council members’ problems in getting access to financial records.

Council seemed willing to accommodate the public demand for an additional layer of accountability, but disagreed on the structure of such a committee.

The proposed ordinance would establish a three member committee with the chairman and vice chairman of the Commission itself serving along with one other member chosen by them. District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson pointed out that both the Chair and Vice chair are from Belton.

District Two Councilwoman Gracie Floyd wanted to appoint the Commission chairman, and three others, who would not necessarily have served on the commission itself.

District One Councilman Bob Waldrep suggested retaining the entire six member commission as the oversight committee. He offered that as an amendment which was defeated by a 3-4 vote with Ms. Wilson and Ms. Floyd voting with him. The unamended ordinance received first reading approval by a converse vote of 4-3,with the same trio again voting together.

Councilman Greer pointed out that only one of the two representatives from Belton was from Belton. “Bob Burriss is from Belton, but he was appointed as one of the three Anderson City appointees. David Jones, the chairman, is from District Seven and lives near Belton. I just don’t want anyone thinking I’m trying to load the truck in my favor,”  

Jones, who does reside in District Seven, is a consistent supporter of Greer, however, having made several contributions to his campaigns over the years. He is credited by other members of the Commission with making Greer aware of the serious trust issues faced by the Commission across the county.

The question of accountability continued as Council took up a proposal by Councilwoman Wilson that the Council take the recommendations of the external auditor and establish the position of an internal auditor. (For more details on the auditor’s report,see related story elsewhere in this issue.)

Again, the debate centered around whose authority such an auditor would function. 

State law offers mixed signals on the issue, as defined under Home Rule. One section of the law includes language that could be taken as authorizing the Council to hire, fire and supervise such an auditor, and in fact, the Anderson County Council had such an independent auditor at one time. It was Gina Humphries, the current director of the finance department, who was placed under the county administrator’s control shortly after current administrator Joey Preston came to the County.

County attorney Tom Martin pointed out that an ordinance establishing an internal auditor under the administrator’s aegis already exists. 

“This ordinance should have been crafted as if intended to amend that ordinance, Ms. Wilson. I take the blame for the form of the proposed ordinance. Should this be approved on first reading I can make those changes.”

Martin responded to questions from Councilman Waldrep about whether or not Council can exercise authority over such an auditor by saying that the attorney general has consistently opined that such a position would in fact come under the administrator’s authority.

“I would be remiss, however, if I did not concede that several counties in this state have simply ignored those opinions and continue to have their Councils control that particular office. So it can be done, but the Attorney General thinks it is improper to say the least.”

After additional discussion, Council voted 5-2 to instruct Martin to produce an ordinance that complies with state law by the next Council meeting.

Seems to Me . . . Promoting balloon fest

By Stan Welch

It has long been accepted in some parts of the country that the garbage business and organized crime go together like egg shells and coffee grounds. Solid waste, garbage, trash, or as they say in the Great Northeast, rubbish, is huge business with huge profits. Only pharmaceutical companies and oil companies have a bigger scam going than the solid waste industry.

From all over the country, garbage trucks stream into South Carolina, and into Anderson County, bringing waste from New Jersey and Atlanta and Charlotte and Baltimore, and they dump it into landfills built in this state with the willing assistance of law firms named after governors who helped craft legislation favorable to such well organized corporations. Oh, they promised never to accept out of state waste, but they told a known lie when they said it; and they never batted an eye.

The federal courts ruled decades ago that solid waste disposal was interstate commerce and couldn’t be regulated by the states. So when Allied Waste, or Waste Management, or Claude Graham, or Nationswaste said they wouldn’t accept out of state waste, they snickered behind their hands when they said it. Why, they even put it in the contracts, knowing it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

The money generated by a wasteful society that asks nothing of the garbage man except that he get that stuff out of the yard is staggering. When I last checked two years ago, Allied had done $8 billion in sales in the previous year. Waste Management, I believe, is even bigger. It’s hard to tell because basically, the solid waste business is a hydra like creature with many heads but one body. Landfills are bought and sold and transferred in an elaborate shell game designed to make it difficult, if not impossible, to finally declare anyone liable for the potential damage such facilities do. Better to pay lawyers than pay claims, I suppose.

Any social scientist wanting to study inbreeding can skip Appalachia, or Salt Lake City, Utah. No, they can go straight to Miami, Florida or Scottsdale, Arizona and study the solid waste business. It’s a wonder they don’t all have six toes and crossed eyes. I’m assuming they don’t, of course.

Such money gives these corporations immense power and influence. Legislators are massaged, local yokels are co-opted, things go smoothly. Donations are made to candidates and dinners are bought and drinks are laughed over.

I used to see Claude Graham, who brokered the deal for the Big Creek Landfill sale with his old friend Joey Preston, on behalf of Allied Waste in 1997, sit outside the County Council chambers with Vic Carpenter, who at the time ran the environmental services division of Anderson County, during Council meetings.

They both had daytime planners and appointment books in their laps and Claude appeared to be giving Vic instructions. Why would a private lobbyist who still attends every Council meeting ten years after the sale closed be giving instructions to an Anderson County department head?  I would have to speculate that Graham/Allied may have gotten more for their money than just the landfill. Or perhaps the attaché case Graham carries everywhere contained information on cutting edge technologies for the disposal of waste and he was sharing the information.

Now that Vic Carpenter has moved to Greenwood County as county manager, and has had that county owned landfill redesignated as a commercial one, perhaps he is still getting instructions from Graham. The change in designation allowed an expansion of annual disposal capacity that is equivalent to the landfill’s entire life span.

In other words, if enough garbage could be hauled into that site to fill it in a year, there is no prohibition in the DHEC issued permit that would stop that. I believe the lifetime capacity for that landfill is 2.76 million tons. It is virtually impossible to dispose of such an amount in a year. But it seems likely that the previous annual disposal capacity of a hundred thousand tons will certainly be doubled, effectively cutting the life of the landfill in two.

That change in designation was accomplished through the exchange of a couple letters between Greenwood County and DHEC, according to documents I obtained under the SC Freedom of Information Act. Yes, the FOIA still is recognized as state law in some places. As with certain accounting principals, that is not the case in Anderson County.

All this leads me to a simple question. Given the immense wealth and political power which presides in the hands of the solid waste industry and its local emissaries, and in light of recent revelations that Allied Waste “donated” almost $60,000 to Anderson County for its balloon fest, why in the world isn’t the official Anderson County balloon shaped like a dumpster? Or a garbage truck or a trash can?

Seems to me like Guido and Tony are losing their touch. 

Yo, fuggedaboutit.

 

 

 

 

 

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