News Archive

Week of April 9, 2003

Account, police suspensions separate issues mayor says
Chief of police forced to leave
Town approves property transfer For Habitat House
Saluda Valley’s Martin a golfer for all seasons
West Pelzer Council handles vehicle bids, discusses cleanup

Account, police suspensions separate issues mayor says

Williamston residents are still wondering what is going on at Town Hall after an expected audit presentation was postponed Monday and the Town’s police chief of 21 years was placed on 24-hour suspension without explanation earlier the same day.

The regular meeting of Town Council was relocated from Council Chambers into the Municipal Center Auditorium due to a large crowd which showed up for the meeting looking for answers as word spread thoughout town Monday that Williamston Police Chief Richard Turner had been suspended from duty.

More than 60 people were in attendance in addition to town police officers, employees and volunteer firemen.

During public comments made at the start of the meeting, former Williamston police officer Paul Turner, said that Chief Turner deserved an answer as to the ultimatum to fire, resign or quit, as did his family and the police department. “The people of Williamston deserve an answer,“ he added.

Mayor Clardy responded  that the situation involved confidentiality related to a personnel matter and that it was a personnel decision.

He said it involved an employee/employer relationship and that both parties “would not want the reason in public papers.”

Clardy also responded, “People elected me mayor not to make the popular decisions, but to make the right decisions.”

According to Clardy, the strong mayor, weak council form of government the town operates under, gives him the authority to hire and fire.

“The Mayor shall have the authority to suspend or remove any employee for the best interest of the town,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of approximately 15 town police officers attending the meeting, acting chief Max Sailors said, “We need some type of closure as to what is going on.”

Clardy responded that there were various reasons and the terms he presented to the chief were that he was given an opportunity to make a decision to either retire or he would be terminated.

Responding to comments made by a citizen who said the chief of police should be voted on by the people, Turner said, “There is no power to hire and fire. There sits your power,” pointing toward the mayor.

Council then proceeded to act on several business items before it was announced that the 2002 audit presentation would not be made that evening.

According to information presented from the draft audit during a work session March 31, the Town of Williamston had a $402,760 deficit for the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2002.

Clardy stated that the final 2002 audit presentation would not be made due to an account that had been left out of the auditing process.

“We were made aware of a situation of a bank account not in the general ledger,” Clardy said.

The 12 months of bank statements were to be reviewed to see how it might effect the finances of the town, Clardy said.

Accountant Larry Finney, of the auditing firm Greene, Finney and Horton, LLP., said it would take about two days to reviewed the statements and make any necessary changes to the financial statements.

Clardy said the statements, which were for a Williamston Police Department account, were brought to his attention because of a change in policy requiring all mail to be sent to the town’s administrative office then to each of the various departments.

Clardy stated that the account is a drug fines and forfeitures account.

Turner  responded that the account doesn’t go into the general fund and has been in existence for at least 10 years.

Turner also maintained that Clardy was aware of the account and that auditors were also aware of it.

At that point, Turner then asked for Council to go into executive session to discuss the matter.

Councilman Greg Cole made a motion for the Council to go into executive session, however other discussion continued.

Williamston police Lt. Danny Hart, who was also notified Monday morning that he was on administrative leave with pay until further notice, then addressed the mayor and council.

Hart said the account in question was for drug forfeitures. “Everybody should have been aware of it,” he said. He also requested an explanation as to why he and Turner were removed without being given a reason.

“I don’t know the status of my employment,” Hart said.

Councilman Cecil Cothran asked about the audit of police department.

Finney, who was to present the audit, stated that the auditing process involves two actions; going to the bank and asking for a listing of all accounts and looking at the town’s ledger.

“The account did not show up when the banks responded,” Finney said. 

“The audit is based upon the ledger that is on the town’s financial system,” Finney said. He also said he couldn’t comment on the account.

“I don’t know what it is or what it impacts,” Finney said.

Cothran then asked Finney why it has taken so long to get the audit done. “This audit has been going on for 6 to 7 weeks,” he said.

Finney said one of the reasons was a very deficient financial system the town was using. “It is a poor system. What was being put in was not what was coming out,” Finney said.

Finney also stated that software problems were a big part of the problem.

Cothran then asked about the need to hire a consultant accountant at $75 an hour to help get the town’s finances in shape for the audit.

“We are trying to straighten out many issues that we have,” Clardy said.

Clardy said 2002 was a year in which expected revenues and expenses were to be placed in the appropriate accounts to give a better financial picture of the town.

“It was supposed to be a tell all year,” Clardy said.

Clardy said that there were many years of swapping funds and that a $511,000 adjustment was made at the end of one year.

“The town of Williamston deserves to have the government back to them without the glitches,” he said.

He then went on, “There has been lots of gossip. We need to get factual information to the public and have it presented to them.”

After other discussion, Councilman Cothran made a motion to have the financial statements presented to Council every month. There was no second or follow-up action taken on the motion but there was a lot of discussion.

Clardy said that every penny spent by the town is accountable and that records and receipts are available to the public.

“Some councilmen have not shown  responsibility in discussing town matters,” Clardy said, alleging that Councilman Wade Pepper had been discussing town business and issues concerning the Mayor in public.

“You have told people things privately and publicly,” Clardy said.

“You’re out of order,” Cothran said.

“When he speaks in public he speaks as a public official,” Clardy responded.

Pepper has maintained that he has had problems in getting town information when requested.

Clardy stated that Pepper should have asked for any information he wanted in writing.

“You would not have had reasons to speak in public,” Clardy said.

“Councilmen should not have to submit it in writing,” Pepper responded.

Clardy then said Pepper’s requests had been answered twice and that he was not out of order.

“I have sought legal council,” Clardy said concerning the problems with Pepper, “and was told to go publicly.”

“People didn’t elect me to choose sides,” Clardy stated, “I have the right to defend my character.”

“Accusations have been made against me for misappropriating town funds,” Clardy said.

At that point Council agreed to go into executive session, taking the matter behind closed doors for approximately 45 minutes.

After returning to regular session, Councilman  Cole asked Clardy about  funding for the museum project.

Clardy said money from a $50,000 grant, appproximately $48,000, is accounted for in the general fund.

Cole made a motion, which was approved by Council 5-0, to have the remaining museum grant money placed into a separate account.

Cole also asked about payment on  a $150,000 tax anticipation note borrowed by the town last October.

Clardy said the town has until October 2003 to pay the note back.

“There has been some payment on that note,” Clardy said.

Cole then made a motion to pay it back as soon as possible.

“I don’t know if we have it,” Clardy responded. He said he could not commit to it because the treasurer was not there to confirm if the funds were available.

There was no call for a second or further discussion or table of the motion.

Councilman Cothran then made another motion to receive an accurate financial statement each month.

Clardy responded that the treasurer has done everything possible to provide that information and that it is available to the council and general public. “We are still in the process of correcting a lot of matters.”

Clardy said some of the financial problems the town was dealing with was because there were deficits in previous years and that there were steps taken to hide those.

He also pointed out the internal system problems the town has had with the accounting software.

There was no follow-up on Cothran’s motion.

Councilman Wade Pepper then made a motion to appoint Town Clerk Hala Cochran office manager over all the employees.

The town attorney stated that the duties of the clerk are defined by state law.

There was no request for a second or other action taken to follow up on the motion.

Following the meeting, Mayor Clardy would not confirm or deny whether the suspension of the police chief and Lt. Danny Hart, had anything to do with postponing the audit presentation.

However on Wednesday, The town issued a statement that the two issues were unrelated.

Both Hart and Turner said they were given no reason for their suspension of duties.

Turner said Monday he was under 24 hour suspension but had not been told by the mayor why the action was taken.

Turner did say he was given an ultimatum by the Mayor Monday morning to either retire or resign from the position as chief.

Lt. Hart was also notified Monday by the mayor that he was being placed on administrative leave with pay until further notice.

Both men said that they were given no explanation as to the reason for their suspension.

On Monday, Mayor Clardy would not confirm or deny that the status of the police officers was related to the unaudited checking account, however by Tuesday the mayor’s office was issuing a statement that the two issues were unrelated.

Turner said that the account brought into question by Mayor Clardy during the Council meeting was an account that had been in existance about ten years and was basically a dormant account that had only 5 or 6 checks written on it during the 10-year-period.

The account was used when vehicles or other items were seized in drug related arrests and sold, usually at public auction, Turner said.

Proceeds over $1,000 from any auction sale are divided among the solicitor, attorney general office and the local office Turner said.

Mayor Clardy stated that the account was a drug forfeiture and fines account administered by the Williamston Police Department which  he said neither he nor the town treasurer knew about.

Turner said that both the mayor and representatives of the auditing firm conducting the audit on the town were aware of the account.

Chief of police forced to leave

Williamston Police Chief Richard Turner was given an ultimatum Monday by Mayor Phillip Clardy to retire or resign or be fired from the position he had held for 21 years.

Wednesday, Turner said he still didn’t officially know his status however he did state that he was asked on Tuesday to turn in his police vehicle and clean out his desk.

Turner said he was also told to expect an official notice in the mail, however he had not received it as of Wednesday.

Mayor Clardy would not offer any explanation for the action other than to say that he had made the ultimatum and that Turner had not retired or resigned at the end of the 24 hour suspension.

“As of today he is no longer the police chief,” Clardy said Wednesday.

Turner, 56, has been chief of the local police department since 1982 and is a 30-year law enforcement veteran.

He said he turned in his uniforms, badges and vehicle late Tuesday and cleaned out his desk.

Turner said the situation was emotionally hard on the officers, many who have worked under him for years.

“It is like family,” he said. “to them it is like a death. I have a lot of friends in Williamston. My heart’s in what I  did over there,” he said.

Turner joined the Town of Williamston police force in 1972 and was assistant chief from 1975 until 1982, when he was named chief of the local force.

Turner said he would wait to receive the Mayor’s notice in the mail before deciding on his next course of action.

“I’ve never been fired before,” he said.

Due to seniority, Sgt. Max Sailors has been named acting Chief of Police until further notice, Mayor Clardy said.

Town approves property transfer For Habitat House

During their regular monthly meeting Monday, Williamston Town Council approved transfer of property to the Habitat for Humanity organization and agreed to provide water to an area just outside the Town limits.

Council approved second reading on the transfer of a lot owned by the Town to the Habitat for Humanity organization. First reading on the property transfer was made during a special called meeting held Mar. 31.

Mayor Phillip Clardy also announced the Apr. 22 government tour to Columbia being sponsored by the Town. Approximately 38 people have reserved seats on the tour and there are 6-10 seats still available for anyone interested in going, according to Clardy. The trip is paid for by those participating and is being conducted at no cost to the town the mayor said.

 Clardy also announced the Municipal Association meeting which will be held Apr. 10 at Westside Community Center.

Clardy noted that April will be a spring clean month in the town with exceptions being made on the pickup of batteries, tires and other items.

Council also approved a request from the Greater Williamston Business Association for $250 to help with expenses for the GWBA Easter Egg hunt this Saturday. The request was approved 4-0 with Councilman Greg Cole abstaining from the vote because he is a member of the local business group.

Council also heard a request to allow a resident to burn a 4x24 foot garden section to rid a garden of a bug infestation. Vickie Bannister, of 307 Mill St., said the Clemson Extension had recommended the plot be burned to kill an infestation of white flies.

Acting upon recommendation of the town attorney Richard Thompson, Council approved the request.

Thompson said the town has an ordinance against burning trash but does not address burning other items. He also recommended adding an ordinance to the books concerning burning of other items.

Council also approved a request by Doug Chapman to annex four acres.

Council approved a request by Jeff Ellison for the Town to accept the water rights and to provide water to property adjacent to Forest Hills subdivision.

Clardy said the property is in the jurisdiction of Big Creek Water, however the water company had relinquished their right to service the area.

Clardy said there would not have to be additional lines run at the town’s expense to run water to the subdivision.

Councilman Cecil Cothran made a motion to provide the water.

The public presentation of the 2002 audit to Williamston Town Council was postponed Monday due to what Mayor Clardy described as discovery of a bank account which was not in the general ledger and not included in the Town’s recent audit.

The audit will probably be presented in a special called meeting when it is finalized the Mayor said.

Saluda Valley’s Martin

a golfer for all seasons

Golfers and non-golfers alike will focus on the Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament this week. Many will focus on the golfers themselves, others will tune in just to admire the course and appreciate its beauty, but Williamston’s Eddie Martin will be doing both.

Working as General Manager of Saluda Valley Country Club for almost 20 years, Martin handles the day-to-day task of keeping everything at the golf course running as smoothly as possible. Doing that keeps Martin busy approximately 60 hours a week and requires that he have a diversity of skills.

Supervising a staff of ten full-time employees and eight part-time employees requires personnel skills as well as a working knowledge of the duties of each employee. Martin admits that he does everything from “running the cash register to maintaining payroll and financial records.” He reports monthly to a Board of Directors consisting of nine members.

Although golfing is considered a “good weather” sport, maintaining the 180-acre club site is a year-round job according to Martin. “Just think how much work there would be to maintaining a lawn that is cut to 1/8” height and having it grow and stay healthy year-round, then multiply it,” he explains.

Aerating, sanding, top dressing and daily mowing are required. The addition of an irrigation system and cart paths a few years ago brought the course up to par. Yet there are always improvements to be made according to Martin. 

Martin estimates that there is $250,000 invested in mowers and equipment to maintain the tees, the greens, the fairways, and the rough. As specialty products,  greens mowers and fairway mowers may cost $18,000 to $36,000. The 60 golf carts at the club are leased from E-Z-GO which also maintains the carts.

The course attracts golfers from Anderson and Greenville counties according to Martin. The $800,000 per year enterprise depends on membership dues and cart and green fees for annual revenue. Although membership is now closed at 320 members, a full membership costs $63 per month

Martin says that the most difficult part of his job involves planning, tournament scheduling, and coordinating outings for groups so that the daily flow is maintained without disruption. At the same time, Martin says he enjoys the “freedom, flexibility and variety” that his job offers.

Although programs in professional golf management are available,  Martin admits that he has been self-taught through years of love of the game. Challenges and all, it appears there’s nothing else he’d rather do.

West Pelzer Council handles vehicle bids, discusses cleanup

West Pelzer Town Council handled bids for a patrol vehicle and discussed plans for a spring cleanup in its regular meeting Tuesday.

The Council received two sealed bids on a 1995 patrol car which needs motor and transmission work according to Police Chief Anthony Smith. Wade Rainey’s Garage bid $250 and Roger Scott bid $226. Council awarded the bid to Wade Rainey’s Garage.

Mayor Bill Alexander reported that a tree located along a town alleyway at 45 Main Street had been removed at a cost $1875 to the town.

Councilman Joe Turner encouraged everyone present to consider contributing to Operation Phone Home, an initiative by the American Red Cross to provide phone cards to servicemen.

Zoning administrator Charles Ellenburg reported that a vitamin distribution business requesting zoning does have a West Pelzer business license and that paperwork is in process for getting appropriate zoning.

Alexander reported that the sewer issue is “still in court.” He reported that Jimmy King had gone to Atlanta to meet with lawyers. Alexander also confirmed that there are “no right-of-way problems” on this issue.

The Council discussed plans for a spring garbage pickup but took no final action. Alexander stated that “no batteries, tires, major appliances, leaves or limbs” would be picked up. Alexander suggested that items such as lumber and metal be picked up. The council decided to table the issue until Roger Scott could provide additional information on the project.