(1406) Week of Apr 5, 2006
investigating Williamston again
The Town of Williamston is apparently the subject of another State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) investigation.
Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said Wednesday that he welcomed the investigation which involved allegations made in public meetings during recent weeks. Clardy provided a news release which states:
The Town of Williamston would like to announce that it is presently cooperating with the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division by providing information that has been requested regarding certain allegations posed by residents for inquiry into the affairs of the Town of Williamston.
The Town of Williamston welcomes the involvement of the State Law Enforcement Division looking into these allegations, and is confident that their findings will bring a greater clarity to several long-standing speculations and rumors that have been voiced in recent town council meetings and in the media.
A call to SLED indicated that a case number had been assigned but confirmation of an investigation could not be made at press time.
The Town of Williamston property auction sale brought in a total of $498,964 according to figures supplied by the Town. Taking out a 2 percent fee paid to the auctioneer/realtor and $7,500 in advertising fees, the town will net approximately $474,000 which will be applied toward the towns delinquent IRS and State withholdings, SC retirement and other delinquent debts.
Mayor Phillip Clardy said We would like to have gotten more. It was comparable to what we expected.
The old city hall property, 1.32 acres located in the center of town, turned out to be the most valuable of the towns property, selling for $225,000.
Jim Simpson, owner and developer of the Town Square Shopping Center, which is located behind the property, was the high bidder.
Prior to bidding, Auctioneer Jimmy Johnson announced that the old city hall building is to be moved within 120 days, at the towns expense.
During a work session held to finalize the auction list, Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said the building would be moved, but offered no details as to where it would be moved or who would be responsible for the costs. Monday, Clardy said he plans to move the building to the Lander property on Main St., which was pulled from the list.
Another of the towns historical properties, the old Gossett St. School building, which also served as the towns recreation center for many years, sold for $70,000. In addition to the historical building, the property includes 3.29 acres.
Fourteen acres of property on Ida Tucker Road, which includes the Williamston Reservoir Dam, went for $35,000.
Other properties of interest which were sold included the 21 acres on Cherokee Road and 24.74 acres on Mill St.. Both of the properties sold for considerably less than expected.
The Cherokee Rd. property, which includes 21 acres with sewer infrastructure already in the ground, sold for $5,200 per acre, or $109,200. For the last two years, it was touted by Mayor Clardy as possibly being sold to repay a $350,000 BAN note which the town took out in 2004. The property has been valued at approximately $168,000.
The Mill St. property, 24.74 acres, sold for $1,100 per acre, or $27,214. The town originally paid $62,500 for the property when it was purchased from Ruth Wilson in 1989. The property has a chain link fence estimated to have cost the town more than $20,000. The property was also the site of the towns grinder operation and was sold with the grinder equipment still on the property. Mayor Clardy said Monday the grinder was not included in the auction.
Property on Belton Drive which was donated to the town was valued at $99,000 according to information presented at a council meeting.
Six lots were pulled from the list because of renters living on the properties. Remaining lots on Parker and Scott streets were sold for $2,100 while one on Ragsdale St. sold for $2,400.
Residential lots on Bigby and Mattison Streets went for $500 to $800 each. A 2.3 acre lot on Bigby went for $1,800. A lot on Randall St. went for $1,100.The Washington St. property which was purchased by the town for $1,700 in 1988, was sold for $600.
Two lots in Gatewood subdivision went for $575 each, two others went for $400. Two of the lots were bought by the town in 1989 for $2,000 each.
A lot on Ridge Court was sold for $1,900. A Woodmere Court lot brought $2,300. A lot on Minor St., was purchased for $2,800.
Seven lots on College St., which the town paid $2,000 to $6,500 for between 1991 to 1996, were sold for $800 each.
Since 1988, the Town of Williamston purchased 11 of 34 of the properties which were sold at the auction. The town paid $87,800 for those properties, which in turn were sold for a total of $34,164.
Total tax assessment on the properties auctioned is estimated at $334,600. Taking out the tax assessment on three of the main properties, 32 Main ($20,004), Cherokee Rd., ($63,012) and Gossett School ($8025), the remaining properties had assessed values of $243,559. Those remaining properties sold for $88,446.
The Town of Williamston property auction sale held last Thursday brought in approximately $474,000 which will be applied toward the towns financial obligations which at the beginning of the year were estimated to be approximately $1.6 million. Town Council unanimously approved paying the IRS, a BAN note payment and police fines due to the state with proceeds from the sale during a work session today (Wednesday).
When collected at closing within 30 days, the largest payment has been promised to the IRS for delinquent withholdings of $185,872. There is an additional $100,000 in penalties pending which may be suspended by IRS officials, according to ACOG advisor Joe Newton, who is helping the town work through the financial crisis.
The 21 acres on Cherokee Road, which Mayor Clardy has said could be sold to repay a $350,000 BAN note, brought in a disappointing $109, 200 for the town. Due to sewer infrastructure on the property, the value of the property has been in question since the town took possession of it. It has been valued at approximately $168,000 by one estimate made by town officials.
Because the property was used as collateral on the BAN note, the proceeds will be applied toward a payment due on the note, Newton said. The town took out the first BAN loan in December of 2004 and when due at the end of the year, defaulted on it. A second BAN, taken out at the end of 2005, paid off the first. Including interest, the BAN note totals $373,000.
State payroll taxes of $33,364 are still due to the Department of Revenue, though there has been an abatement of $7,000 in penalties, according to Newton.
State officials have also indicated that they were waiving interest due on the delinquent $103,883 due for State Retirement. Police fines due to the state amount to $85,000.
According to figures made public in February by accountant Bob Daniel, at the end of 2005, the Town of Williamston had accounts payable of $117,586. Of that, $71,342 was delinquent.
Some payments were made by the town during January including $94,899 paid on delinquent Federal withholdings and social security and $18,954 paid on state withholdings. Additional payments have also been made, Town official said.
In the water and sewer fund, accounts payable stood at $225,965, of which $147,183 was delinquent.
Payments on the water and sewer bond were four payments behind, a total of $102,064. Two payments were made in January, town officials said.
General liabilities for the town amounted to $1,263,779, of which $1,138,753 was delinquent. Added to that is the $350,000 BAN note (plus interes) which is due at the end of the year. In the water and sewer fund, the town owed $432,606, of which $353,824 was delinquent. Payments of $79,495 were made in January.
When added up, total liabilities for the town when the crisis became public, amounted to $1,613,000. All but $475,000 of that was delinquent.
Proceeds from the auction sale will be included in the 2006 budget discussion which continued today (Wednesday) with a work session being held at the Williamston Municipal Center. Details of the work session will be posted on The Journal website at www.thejournalonline.com.
Correction - The Journal reported that during the work session held March 15, that Mayor Clardy reported that the South Carolina Retirement Fund has acknowledged an error in billing and has agreed to waive all fines and penalties previously due them.
The paragraph should have read Mayor Clardy reported that the South Carolina Retirement Fund has agreed to waive all fines and penalties previously due them. There was no error in billing. The Journal regrets any confusion this may have caused.
By Stan Welch
Months after being ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, Grand Isle Louisiana, which was adopted by Williamston officials, is on the way to recovery.
Town Clerk Ray Santiny spoke with The Journal by phone Monday, saying that the Town is getting back on its feet. Things are moving along pretty well, he said. The demolition and cleanup is going a little slow, but thats how it is when you work with the Corps of Engineers. You just have to deal with it.
The Town, which was essentially underwater during Katrina, received a second blow from Hurricane Rita, later in the season last year. Much of the material and supplies brought in by Williamston and other sources was damaged or destroyed by Rita. Recent published reports that the town had asked that no more supplies be brought in are accurate, according to Santiny. We have received so much help from so many people, that we feel like it would be selfish to take any more. We have pretty much what we need, and we are getting back on track.
The town was devastated by Katrina, losing 80% of its buildings and having to evacuate all but five of its population of almost 2000 people. Williamston established the Heart to Hand program and attracted national attention, when ABCs Good Morning America reported on the effort.
Mayor Phillip Clardy and a number of town employees from the various departments went down to offer a hand. All told stories of incredible destruction and remarkable courage upon their return.
Santiny said the help from around the country has been overwhelming. We have a bunch of Rotarians in town this week from California. Theyre helping some folks rebuild their houses. Weve just been overwhelmed by the amount of caring and concern and help that weve received.
He said the emergency services are back to 95% of their operational ability. Our shifts are back in place and we are providing the people with the services needed.
Santiny says despite the abundance of supplies and the continuing appearance of volunteers, the good thoughts and prayers of people are welcome. We thank you for thinking about us and for calling to see how we are, he said.
Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy has been questioned and criticized about items that were donated for Hurricane relief but remain undelivered.
During the Council meeting Monday, Clardy said that the town had decided to continue accepting items after the first trip to Grand Isle and that items currently in storage were collected after they left. He also said officials of Grand Isle told them not to send anything else because there was no place to put it.
Clardy also said the monetary donations were put into a separate account that will be used to transport the items when another trip is made. He said there was an account with $4,700 in it and that some of the money was used to pay storage unit fees for items. Williamston Police Chief David Baker said the items were being stored in the old cafeteria building, but that there was a major roof leak. The items were moved to the storage building because of that, he said. Clardy also said that some items donated were used and were not fit for use.
The Greater Williamston Business Association will sponsor the annual Easter Egg Hunt for ages 10 and under on Saturday, April 8, in Williamstons Mineral Spring Park.
Ages and time schedules are as follows: under three - 9:30 a.m., ages four and five - 10 a.m., ages six and seven - 10:30 a.m., and ages eight to ten - 11 a.m.
Drawings for prizes and grand prizes will be held for each age group. At the conclusion of the last hunt, a drawing for a playhouse constructed by students at the Career and Technology Center will be held. A giant Easter basket will also be given away.
In case of inclement weather, the rain date for the event will be the following Saturday, Apr. 15.
Dr. Marion Williams, who heads the project for the GWBA, stated that it is done strictly for the kids and is not for profit. He said the Career and Technology Center had agreed to provide a playhouse constructed by students at the center as a grand prize. A giant Easter basket will also be given away.
The event will include face painting, balloons and pictures with the Easter Bunny.
During their regular monthly meeting Monday, Williamston Town Council heard comments from several residents about various issues including Katrina relief and then responded.
Willie Wright presented several proposals to Council including asking for some type of discount for senior citizens; stating that churches should not have to pay the $30 MS fee; indicating on water bills the ward residents live in; offering transportation for items that need to be delivered to Grand Isle. He also stated the residents were receiving less services with higher fees and asked if the town had an auditor. The comments drew a response from Mayor Phillip Clardy.
Clardy said the towns fees were fair and impartial and were based on use. He said if fees were reduced, other residents would have to bear the burden. He said that churches are being charged for garbage consumption. He also said that the computer software would not accommodate adding the ward.
He also said the town was still providing services, but not as timely. Clardy said the town had an auditor.
He also responded on Grand Isle relief stating that the town had decided to continue accepting items after the first trip and that items currently in storage were collected after they left. He also said officials of Grand Isle told them not to send anything else because there was no place to put it. Much of the items they took after Katrina, Hurricane Rita hit and flooded the area again.
Clardy also said the funds were put into a separate account that will be used to transport the items and that some items were not fit for use.
Clardys comments on Grand Isle drew a response from resident Jan Dawkins, whose husband is working with hurricane relief in Louisianna.
Clardy said the town has an auditor who agreed to audit the town when accountant Bob Daniel presents his final information and a final price is decided on the audit. Hiring the auditor will be voted on in public, he said.
Dawkins questioned a letter about the towns financial status which was promised to residents but has yet to be received.
Clardy said the letter was to be sent out by the town to make the general public aware of the financial situation and to include steps and measures taken to resolve it. In the January 18 edition of The Journal, Mayor Clardy promised a letter would be sent out within two weeks.
Clardy said citizens are welcome to look into any file cabinet at the municipal center to find answers to questions they may have.
Dawkins also asked Councilman Otis Scott if he was going to repay the town for the costs of removing a tree on his property which was damaged in the ice storm in December . The tree was cut down and removed at town expense of $900.
They said I didnt have to, Scott replied, adding that FEMA paid.
Scott said the tree was falling in the street and on another house.
The mayor then responded that he and the street supervisor David Roberts authorized the tree to be removed and that it was on a road easement.
Clardy also continued to elaborate on the Katrina situation donations.
He said there is an account with $4,700 in it and that some of the money was used to pay storage unit fees for items. The items were being stored in the old cafeteria building at the Municipal Center, but were moved because of a leaking roof in the building.
Dawkins also questioned the town being charged by a local business for storing the charitable items.
She said there were many victims who would jump at getting anything and that there were people who would be glad to take the items and a check to them.
You ought to be ashamed about these Katrina items, Dawkins said.
Clardy then made a motion for Council to go into executive session to discuss a contractural and a personnel matter.
After an executive session lasting more than one hour, Council returned to public session. No action or comments related to what may have been discussed were taken in public.
Mayor Clardy announced that a budget work session will be held Wednesday (April 5) at 9:30 a.m.
Clardy also said that he will make a recommedation for a vacancy on the planning commission at the next meeting. Clardy said he thought the position, which is open following the resignation of Larry Holcombe, was an at large position.
Clardy said the town will have two contractors look at moving the old town hall building from its present location to the property known as the Lander property. He said it could be used for the offices of the Williamston Area Historic Commission (WAHC). Members of the organization had asked that the property, as well as the Gossett School building, not be sold for historical reasons. Members of the organization had previously planned to renovate the Gossett St. building and use it as an office.
Clardy also mentioned moving the museum to the municipal center complex. He also proposed relocating the time capsules buried on the old city hall property to two planting areas in front of the Municipal Center
The agenda was amended to allow Marion Middleton to make a request to close a street that was the old Ida Tucker Road intersection with Minor St.
Middleton said the street was once closed but for some reason was reopened.
Middleton said closing the street will allow the owners to bring approximately two acres that form a triangle created by the new Ida Tucker intersection back in with adjoining property. He said he will allow the state enough of a right of way for a turning lane. It will be much safer, he said. Council approved the request 4-0.
By Stan Welch
Wishful thinking and big spending were the order of the day at the latest meeting of the commission formed to establish referendum language for a proposed one cent sales tax for Anderson County, and to prioritize the spending of the monies which would be raised.
Despite concerns that the three major projects might be facing funding reductions, either in part or in whole, or perhaps because of those concerns, the commission extended their wish list to use every bit of the $130 million the sales tax could generate for local projects.
The three major projects could be funded by grants from the State Infrastructure Bank, with a thirty five percent match from the County. Recent developments, however, have cast doubt on just how much SIB money may be available. Charleston County, whose delegation includes the Speaker of the House and the President pro tem of the Senate, is seeking $700 million in SIB funds. The effects of even half that request being funded would have a tremendous impact on Andersons proposed requests.
Several of the commission members seemed resigned to at least one, and perhaps both of the projects slated for the Belton/Honea Path area, being cut. Holt Hopkins, Transportation Director for the County, said that the dream list was being compiled in case no grant money is forthcoming from the SIB. If the SIB doesnt give any money on any of the top three projects, well skip to the list of local projects. Hopkins also stated that he has heard unconfirmed reports that the County Council might not approve any plan that didnt fund all three projects.
Having already provided contingent funding for projects in the sum of $75 million the commission proceeded to spend the $55 million balance of the $130 million which the sales tax is projected to generate over its seven year life span. That term is prescribed by law, though many opponents of the tax claim that it can be extended indefinitely.
The strong uncertainty of the referendums passage was not lost on the commission members; nor was the importance of tackling projects in every part of the County. The last thirty minutes of the meeting were taken up by efforts to ensure that even if Belton and Honea Path were to lose the projects to widen both Highways 76 and 247 all the way to US Hwy. 25 in Greenville County, they would receive some benefits. Commission chairman Rusty Burns stated that it would be all or nothing. They would not cut Belton and fund Honea Path, or vice versa. You wont see that happen, he said.
Among those benefits would be the resurfacing of three miles of Greer Street in Honea Path, along with an additional million dollars for installing a half mile of sidewalks on each side of the street. An additional $250,000 would be put into sidewalk work on Rouse Street. Belton would see sidewalk repairs and installation on Main and Anderson Streets. An additional $3 million was earmarked for use in constructing several stretches of passing lanes on Hwy. 252.
Williamston saw another project added to the wish list, with $2.875 million being approved for the widening of the bridge on Main Street. That is essential to any eventual widening of Hwy. 20 through town. An updated list of projects with a higher priority included the Ida Tucker Road Extension, which was funded in the amount of $6 million. That project would serve to relieve downtown and school congestion, and would include two new traffic signals.
By Stan Welch
Has the impact of wholesale personnel changes in the Countys Central Dispatch Department finally begun to be felt by the public the department is meant to serve? Both Sheriff David Crenshaw and Emergency Services Director Tommy Thompson agree that those changes played no role in the events surrounding the stabbing of an Anderson woman Monday night.
On that night, Anna Clifton was stabbed eight times at her home in Anderson. She called 911, but was apparently thought to be crying wolf. Her sister stated in published reports that Clifton, with a history of mental problems, had called 911 before when there was no need for the services. Still, the Medshore Ambulance unit, operated by a company owned by County Coroner Greg Shore, wasnt sent to the location until more than one 911 call had been made.
Adding to the problem is the fact that apparently no sheriffs deputies were dispatched. Coroner Shore says he has several questions, including why a deputys car went right past the house while the ambulance was staged, awaiting clearance to proceed. According to experienced dispatchers contacted by The Journal, procedure calls for the Central Dispatch facility to handle the calls, then forward them to the appropriate agency; in this case, the Anderson County Sheriffs Office. Sheriff Crenshaw said Tuesday afternoon that a review of the tapes of the call indicated that We just screwed this one up. This lady is a mental patient, and a frequent caller. Always before, when we responded, there proved to be no reason. Its a sad case of crying wolf once too often, but it is our fault and we will be taking steps to make sure it never happens again.
Clifton remains in critical condition. Juan Ramon Mendez, 25, was arrested in connection with the incident, along with his girlfriend, Samantha Pentycofe. According to Christel ONeal, Cliftons sister, she had previously befriended the couple, who had a baby.
Concerns about the impact of the firings and resignations which have occurred at Central Dispatch in recent months have been repeatedly dismissed by Emergency Services Director Tommy Thompson, who dismisses those who were let go or who resigned. Morale is excellent and absenteeism is down to normal levels, said Thompson, when asked about the situation approximately a week ago. Were training very hard to replace those personnel. The Sheriff has 16 dispatchers of his own using our equipment and facilities. The recent personnel changes had nothing to do with this situation. I am not short on trained, capable personnel.
Both men agree that there is no move afoot for Crenshaw to assume the running of the Central Dispatch department. I havent been consulted on anything like that, said Crenshaw. Im perfectly happy with the way things are. Tommys people do a good job.
Thompson said he and the sheriff have a great working relationship. We work very closely together and have full cooperation. I have no inkling of any plan to change things.
Experts in the field say that replacing people with ten to 15 years experience essentially takes ten to fifteen years. The only way to replace that kind of experience is to get that kind of experience, said a former dispatcher who asked that her name be withheld. Thats one reason all those people were complaining about what was going on at Central Dispatch last year.
Late last summer, the members of County Council received at least two letters allegedly sent by employees of the Central Dispatch department, alleging widespread sexual misconduct and harassment, both sexual and otherwise, by several supervisors in the department.
According to documents obtained by The Journal, those letters triggered an internal investigation into the department, which resulted in the demotion of at least one supervisor, and the firing of several dispatchers who had been promised confidentiality if they cooperated with the investigation.
Described by Thompson, who oversees the department, as disgruntled employees, those dispatchers are beginning to talk. They tell a consistent tale of aberrant and unprofessional behavior, including sexual activities and harassment on the job.
In a letter originally sent to County Administrator Joey Preston, strong the actions taken as a result. This thing was scrutinized to the Nth degree. We had legal and personnel experts in and really looked at everything. It was fully investigated, and it should have been because the allegations were serious. I am satisfied with the way the whole thing was handled.
He also says any perception of a preference for younger employees is just that a perception. There is no culture of youth at central dispatch, said Thompson. I simply dont see it.
The letter cited above was written to the Council several weeks after a letter was sent to County Administrator Joey Preston, and following the conclusion of the internal investigation.
The initial letter to Preston was equally blunt, and presumably written by the same person, although neither letter was signed. That letter made similar allegations and asked that Preston investigate. Preston in turn handed the investigation off to county labor attorney Linda Bloodgood. She in turn had Denise Holley conduct interviews with various Central Dispatch employees.
Bloodgood, in a brief memo to Preston last October, confirmed his approval of her recommendations that certain management changes need to be made in the Communications Department and that appropriate remedial action will be taken.
Sources familiar with the investigation, speaking to The Journal on condition of anonymity, because they fear reprisals, said that at least three of the dispatchers who cooperated with the investigation after being promised confidentiality, were later terminated.
Those sources said that people at Central Dispatch still fear for their jobs and their professional reputations. Thats why no one will come forward and talk about these things. They know what will happen. The ones who quit in the last few months saw what was coming, and got out before they got fired. Its a bad situation for them to be in, and it should be stopped, but no one wants to lose their jobs. If Mr. Thompson thinks all of us are disgruntled, maybe he should ask himself why we are.
There is some question as to whether these letters are included among those harassing or threatening letters which Preston and Chief of Detectives Tim Busha recently claimed have been sent to Preston and other Council members. The letters do threaten to expose various supervisors and department heads for having affairs and covering up for one another, but they threaten no harmful or physical acts. One letter states, In the event you or anyone else believes I am just a p____d off employee, and will go away, I wont.
Nine Anderson School District One schools will receive statewide recognition from the Education Oversight Committee (EOC) for their efforts in identifying and closing the achievement gap among students of differing economic, racial and ethnic groups.
On April 10, the EOC will recognize 138 elementary and middle schools from among the 863 elementary and middle schools statewide for their improvements.
District One Schools to be recognized include: Palmetto Elementary, Cedar Grove Elementary, Pelzer Elementary, Wren Middle, West Pelzer Elementary, Spearman Elementary, Wren Elementary, Hunt Meadows Elementary, and Powdersville Middle.
The schools are recognized based on three criteria: when a school enrolls a group of at least thirty (30) students from the economic, racial or ethnic groups that historically have underachieved in our state; when the performance of the identified groups meets or exceeds the 75th percentile of performance of students statewide in either English language arts or mathematics; and when the school has met the requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for all students and for the identified group.
Our after school programs are providing opportunities for students to work on targeted areas in reading and math and receive individual instruction, states Jane Harrison, Director of Elementary Education. Schools provide a rigorous instructional program that promotes success for all.
Over the years, our schools have implemented many new strategies to close the achievement gap that exists between groups of students, said Dr. Wayne Fowler, Superintendent. The state recognition of our schools assures our teachers, parents, and students that we are moving in the right direction. Anderson One is committed to maintaining high quality faculty and staff in the schools to acquire academic excellence for all students.
By Stan Welch
Well, the Town of Williamston held its land auction last week, and by most accounts, the results were less than hoped for. Depending on the figures you hear, the money raised from the sale was right at or less than $500,000. That sounds okay, until you start adding up the tax debts and penalties and interest and pretty soon, the half million is gone; but all the bills arent.
Joe Newton says that the IRS is owed approximately $300,000 in penalties and interest; the Town is $85,000 behind on their payment to the state courts; another $95,000 is owed to the state retirement system. In addition, $37,000 is owed in state payroll taxes, although the state did agree to waive $7000 in interest (and not the SC Retirement system, as reported in The Journal last week.). While the IRS may forgive some of those penalties and interest in the future, those eggs are way too far from hatching to be counted as chicks yet.
Realtor Hugh Durham, who volunteered to organize and promote the auction for a fee which has yet to be totaled up, repeatedly said that the properties up for sale would bring top dollar and fair market value. By all accounts, they did not. The 21 acre tract that has been producing such fine weed crops on Cherokee Road for the last several years was, according to Mayor Clardy, going to pay off the $350,000 Bond Anticipation Note (BAN).Well, it wont; not by a long shot.
That property, which had been repeatedly described as being worth $8000 an acre, brought $5200 an acre; but even at the higher figure, it would have retired only half the BAN. Joe Newton, ACOG director of government operations, who has been shepherding the Mayor and Council through the towns financial woes, says he will recommend that the proceeds from that tract be used towards retiring the BAN. That was the agreement with the bank that issued the BAN. It doesnt make much sense to go around making them mad, when the Town may need their help again in the future.
If Council follows his advice, thats approximately $110,000 less that will be available to satisfy tax claims against the Town. This sale is looking less than successful all the time.
The Town did do the right thing in making an opportunity available for the renters living on the Ragsdale Road properties to bid on and purchase their own lots. At least one did just that. If I remember right, the remainder of the lots went to one bidder, but none of them brought even half their appraised value.
But the most troubling aspect of the sale occurred two days before, at a public meeting held by Council to make final revisions to the list of properties. In an executive session, Council met with local businessman Jim Simpson, who owns the property surrounding the old Town Hall on Main Street. After a session that lasted almost an hour, the Council voted on the final list, removing the six lots that had been listed, and making them available to the renters who are living on them.
The Town also voted to leave the Old Town Hall property on the list, amid whispers that Simpson might be able to parlay having the whole tract into a deal to bring a major supermarket back to the site of the Winn Dixie that closed last year. At least thats what the Mayor hinted at. Of course, the Mayor also said that the Town Hall would be moved to another location, in the interests of preserving the Towns history.
Lets make something very clear here. The Town almost became history this year; the possibility is far from past. But if there is anyone who can move that building, constructed as it is, to another location, and do it for less than the $225,000 that the building brought at auction, more power to them.
However, lets get back to this executive session for a moment. The South Carolina Freedom of Information act allows for the use of executive sessions for very restricted purposes. It can be used to discuss contractual matters, to air personnel issues, and to discuss litigation. It is difficult to fit what happened that Tuesday into any of those categories.
There was no contract concerning the sale or purchase or any other transaction involving the old town hall; likewise there was no pending litigation to be discussed. Personnel issues clearly werent involved. To the casual review, the executive session appears to have been improper.
Yeah, Stan, but whats the big deal? The Town needs the money and Jim Simpson will do a good job with whatever he decides to pursue, right? Yeah, probably. But it seems to me there are a couple other questions to be asked and issues to be raised.
For starters, if Ingles or Food Lion or Publix wants to put a supermarket in the old Winn Dixie, then couldnt the Town have possibly gotten more money for the property from them than it did from Simpson? If a supermarket chain wanted that out parcel for use as a gas station, lets say, wouldnt they have paid accordingly for it?
Another issue is how the Mayor can possibly entertain the idea that the old town hall can be successfully moved, especially within 120 days? Whos going to move it? The town? Simpson? The supermarket chain? Anybody got any details? There are many in town who think that promise comes under the heading of blowing smoke to make the public accept a decision they otherwise wouldnt have accepted.
Now let me make it clear that I agree with selling the old town hall site. The money is badly needed, and the Town is at the point where it has to choose between its future and its past. But that past should have been sold properly, and for as high a price as it was possible to get. The handling of this situation leaves several questions in the minds of people around town. A citizen of Williamston could certainly be forgiven for thinking that they smell a rat.
In the end, these questions and concerns boil down to one thing: have the Mayor and Council done anything about improving the standard of their performance in governing? Or is it just going to be business as usual?
Anderson County Sheriffs deputies investigated the following incidents:
March 31 R.D. McElrath responded to a complaint of burglary at 300 Easley Hwy. Gary Pace reported that someone had entered his home while he was away at a funeral and stole several collectors knives, valued at approximately $225.
March 23 M.D. Looney responded to a report of a missing person. He spoke with Gail Brooks at 45 Spring St., who reported that her boyfriend, John Ramey, had left on Sunday afternoon, March 19, and had not been heard from since. He had called from a convenience store and said hed see her on the 20th. His boss later contacted her looking for Ramey, a WM, 26, 62", 180 pounds, brn/green. His boss filed a complaint for a stolen vehicle, since Ramey was driving a company vehicle at the time.
March 22 M.D. Looney received a report of the theft of a tiller from 16 River St., where June Burnett reported that the tiller had been cut free from the lawn mower it was chained to. Burnett and her husband heard nothing.
March 23 K.J. Winn received a complaint of malicious damage to property from Kendall Lee Greer, II at 41 Smythe St. Someone had apparently thrown a mailbox onto his car, resulting in damage to the vehicle.
March 31 D.W. Davis received a report of grand larceny from Jesse Threkill, at 108 Charles Drive. She stated that an unknown subject had broken into her husbands truck and stolen $1000 worth of tools.
April 1 D.L. Barton responded to the gas station at 2501 River Road, where a station employee stated that a suspicious white truck had been at the pumps for a long time, but no one had gotten out. Upon approaching the truck, Barton discovered two Hispanic males, Rojo Luciano, 32, of 903 Joe Black Rd., and Jose Montelongo, 36, of Greenville. Reports state that Luciano was behind the wheel, and when asked where he was, replied that he was in his driveway. Both were arrested for public disorderly conduct and transported to ACDC.
April 2 D. L. Barton investigated a case of assault and battery at 3104 Earle Morris Hwy. Willie Chastain reported that two black female guests in Room 205 at the motel asked for a rollout bed and became enraged and abusive when they were told there was a $10 charge. One began to kick and hit him, following him down the stairs to the ground floor. The other then joined her and they continued to kick and hit Chastain, a 71 year old black male who is the clerk at the motel. They were gone by the time the officer reached the room.
April 2 D.W. Davis responded to the McDonalds at 3435 Highway 153, where manager Heidi Beal reported that an unknown female in a white Pontiac with SC tag # 747TPX attempted to pass a twenty dollar counterfeit bill.
March 24 K.J. Winn investigated a case of malicious damage to property, reported by Rita Drake Craig, of 238 Major Road, who said that someone blew up her mailbox during the night.
March 26 T.L. Chapman responded to a complaint of shoplifting at the Eckerds at 915 Anderson St., where the manager reported the theft of $400 worth of Pepcid AC and Claritin by two black males who set off the store alarm when they left. The manager got a tag number off of a cream colored Cadillac the men entered. The tag, # 543-WHA came back as not on file.
April 2 T.B. Dugan investigated a case of grand larceny at 21 Red Fox Blvd., where Jess Harbert reported that a green 2002 Honda Foreman 4 wheeler had been stolen from his property.
April 2 T.B. Dugan and D.W. Davis responded to 8 Little Beavercreek where Tina Lollis reported that Jerry Edward Revis, WM, 32, 63", 180 pounds had run over Melissa Patrick, his girlfriend. Reports state Patrick said it was her fault and declined to press charges but witnesses said Revis backed up and floored the car, hitting Patrick and dragging her about ten feet. Revis was arrested and transported to ACDC.
D.L. Barton responded to a report of an unconscious person at 110 Willingham Road. He found Joe Alexander Thompson, WM, 27, 56", 160 pounds, brn/blue to be passed out. Reports state he was found to have been huffing paint, or inhaling aromatic hydrocarbons. He was arrested and taken to ACDC.
March 23 J.J. Jacobs conducted a traffic stop at Mahaffey Street and Leland Heights, after determining the tag on a Pontiac Grand Prix was in fact registered to a Honda Accord. The driver, Brian Steven Horne, WM, 30, 62", 220 pounds, brn/brn, was subsequently arrested for DUS and simple possession of marijuana.
March 23 M.D. Creamer responded to 5651 Hwy. 29 North, where Crystal Ellison reported the theft of an antique seed planter. She showed Creamer the tape from a surveillance camera, which showed an unknown suspect in a late 1980s model BMW, 4 DR, white, as he put the planter in the vehicle. A red air tank was also missing, but the suspect was not visible on the tape while removing it.
March 24 - M.D. Creamer investigated a case of burglary at 404 Elaine Way, where Elaine Rice reported that she returned from work and found her front door broken down. She reported the theft of tires and rims, jewelry, electronics, and a computer, with a total value of $4580.
Wednesday, April 5 - During a work session held Wednesday, April 5, Williamston Town Council approved priorities for use of proceeds from the land auction sale and decided not to replace two police officers that are leaving the department.
They also discussed increasing water deposits, unexpected expenses associated sewer treatment and other budget items.
The property auction sale held last Thursday will result in approximately $474,000 for the town to apply toward debt it has incurred. Council unanimously approved applying the proceeds toward the towns financial obligations which at the beginning of the year were estimated to be approximately $1.6 million.
Town Council unanimously approved paying the IRS, a BAN note payment and police fines due to the state with proceeds from the sale.
The largest payment has been promised to the IRS for delinquent withholdings of $185,872. There is an additional $100,000 in penalties pending which may be suspended by IRS officials, according to ACOG advisor Joe Newton, who is helping the town work through the financial crisis.
Remaining funds will make a payment on the $350,000 BAN note, pay police fines due to the state which amount to $85,000 and pay payroll taxes of $33,364 which are still due to the State Department of Revenue.
In a split vote, Council will not replace two police officers who are leaving the department.
Williamston Police Chief David Baker had asked Council to consider replacing the officers to keep the current staffing at 17.
Councilman David Harvell and Councilman Greg Cole voted against replacing the officers until town officials see how the finances will be over the next few months.
ACOG advisor Joe Newton, who is helping steer the town back toward sound financial status, stated that cash flow over the next few months is critical and he does not anticipate additional cuts being necessary in the department.
With the loss of two officers, the department is now operating at 15 police officers. Council has not considered any additional cuts at this point.
There was also some discussion about unexpected expenses associated with the towns sewer treatment, the suggestion of increasing the deposit for water service, and possibly charging industry in the town for certain fees that the town has been covering.
Newton also suggested Council look at setting the 2007 millage rate around August of this year. Newton said he will probably recommend some tax increase but noted that it will be well below the 200-300 percent increase mentioned by a resident during a previous meeting.
Mayor Clardy said town council will revisit the fees at the end of the year.