News Archive

(1505) Week of Apr. 13, 2005

Week of Apr. 13, 2005

Midway Road development meets permit requirements
Don’t be the victim of a spring scam
Legal battle continues over access to information 
West Pelzer officers not allowed to take vehicles home
Piedmont Relief Center to hold open house
Child safety event planned April 17 in Mineral Spring Park
Deputies investigate Hardee’s robbery
Area towns encourage residents to clean up

Road project underway
West Pelzer Fire Department receives check

Midway Road development meets permit requirements

By Stan Welch

Despite the concerns expressed by several area residents, the developer of a project that borders Beaverdam Creek is in compliance with South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) permit requirements.  

According to SCDOT official Bob Patterson, residents concerns about the Midway Road bridge are unfounded.

“We have had some settling in the past, as the result of high water washing some fill material out. That’s fairly common with most bridges in this part of the country. We’ll be doing some asphalt leveling at that bridge in the future,” Patterson said.

One concern of the residents is the possible effect of a ditch recently dug parallel to the Midway Road bed, which the residents claim was dug to drain a small wetlands area adjacent to the proposed Midway Road entrance into the development.

Patterson says the ditch is a problem, but added that they are working with the developer to address the issue.

Robert Seawright, one of those concerned with the project and its possible effects, reported that he has contacted DHEC concerning the draining of the wetland area.

“We already have a problem with that bridge, and that ditch is going to make it worse. I also think it’s important to protect wetlands, and draining them should not be allowed,” he said.

According to Patterson, residents first became concerned with the developer’s plans to create an entrance to the project in the middle of a curve on Midway Road.

The entrance was originally denied, but Patterson says the developer  acquired  additional right-of-way in order to achieve the necessary sight distance.  

“Some folks were upset about that, and to tell you the truth, it’s not the best road to put a development of that size on, but that’s a problem throughout the county. Midway is a state road, but many county roads are being subjected to traffic loads they were never designed for,” Patterson said.

Since Patterson addressed the various issues with the developer last week, an erosion control device has been installed on the edge of  the wetlands area in question. It lies at the bottom of a steep clear cut area which will serve as the Midway Road entrance to the Rivendell development.

Patterson reiterated that he feels the concerns can be addressed by working with the developer.

“As long as he is in compliance with the permit requirements, we can’t hold him back,” he said.

Don’t be the victim of a spring scam

By Stan Welch

A review of recent Anderson County Sheriff’s Department incident reports for The Journal’s coverage area shows that the elderly are increasingly frequent targets for scams and con artists.

In recent weeks, several incidents have taken place. In one instance, an elderly woman was approached in the BiLo supermarket by a couple. While the woman distracted the victim, the man stole her wallet from her purse, which was in the shopping cart. The victim lost several hundred dollars, as well as her credit cards.

Another elderly woman in Pelzer was robbed by two men who claimed to be from the water company. One man lured the woman out into the yard and around the corner  of  the house under the pretense of inspecting her outside faucets.

While she was outside, the second man went in and stole several hundred dollars she had in the house. The victim said the men drove a tan or white pickup complete with a yellow light on the roof.

Just recently, a Williamston woman allowed two men, with perhaps a third accomplice waiting in the truck, into her home. The men claimed to be selling home improvement products, such as are sold at Lowe’s and Home Depot at discounts.

After talking awhile, the men left. The woman, 72, later found her checkbook and credit cards missing from a purse which one of the men had sat close to during their visit.

While no official police report has been made reflecting this situation, there have been reports of two men approaching elderly women with offers to trim tree limbs back away from the roofs of the women’s homes. The men claim that they will do this for no charge;  but in at least one case, one of the men has entered the house while the other man distracted the homeowner. No loss was reported, but the men made an appointment to return later. The homeowner later refused to allow the work to be done.

Such scams are common during spring months, when yard work and cleanup from winter weather is beginning to take place.

The elderly are targeted because they are often less able to do the physical work that such cleanup requires. In addition, many elderly are on fixed incomes and are more susceptible to offers of savings or discounts for goods or services.

Anderson County Sheriff’s Office Captain Tommy Williams encourages the public to be wary of such offers.

“We all know that there aren’t any free rides. If somebody offers to do something or sell something for a great deal less than it’s worth, beware. There’s always a hook in the bait,” Williams said.

Williams stresses caution, especially for the elderly. “It seems that these scam artists like to pick on the elderly. I want to especially warn our older neighbors to never ever allow entry to their homes to anyone they don’t  know well. If someone in a situation like this makes you nervous, call 911. If they leave, try and get a description of their vehicle if you can do so safely. But call us. We will respond.”

Another effect of such scams, says Williams, is the damage done to honest people who offer such services.

“An honest man or woman who does yard work or home repairs pays for the actions of these scam artists too,” he said.

Legal battle continues over access to information

By Stan Welch

A long struggle over public information and who controls it continues through the courts as the two parties, both involved in the governing of Anderson County, continue the discovery process that will eventually lead them once more into the courtroom.

County Administrator Joey Preston and County Councilwoman Cindy Wilson (District 7) have long  been deadlocked over her efforts to access both legal and financial records of the County.

On March 9, Judge J.C Buddy. Nicholson, Jr. heard a motion by the County’s attorneys to dismiss Wilson’s petition for a writ of mandamus. The writ, if granted, would force the immediate release of the information.

Judge Nichols refused to dismiss the petition, while at the same time upholding the decision by Preston not to release the information until an official ruling is made  by the Court.

That decision prolongs a struggle between Preston and Wilson that Wilson claims began with her election to the County Council in 2000.

The Councilwoman says she began asking for certain financial records even before being sworn in following her election. 

Wilson has consistently sought access to the County’s financial records, based on a review of correspondence between she and Preston, as well as a review of public records

There are two issues in question. One involves the regular financial reports generated by the County. These are composed of two different types: the GLR (General Ledger Report) 110, which is designed to give regular reports on the County’s financial transactions, and the GLE 153, a more comprehensive report issued twice a year. These are records which Wilson began requesting soon after her election.

The second issue, and the one which originally led to Wilson seeking the writ of mandamus, involves legal vendor fees.

Wilson has consistently demanded access to that information; Preston and the majority of Council have steadfastly refused to grant that access.

Though the issues each have their own separate history, they became united a few weeks prior to the March 9 hearing, when Wilson supplemented her pleadings to include the GLR reports in her petition for the writ of mandamus.

While Wilson says she began her quest to see the County’s routine financial records even before being officially sworn into office, things really began to heat up in the fall of 2003.

According to the minutes of the November 4 Council meeting of that year, Wilson and Preston had a prolonged and pointed exchange in which she demanded several times to be provided with various financial records, while he repeatedly accused her of misleading the public and misstating the facts.

In a letter dated November 17, 2003, Wilson asked for access to the legal vendor files, invoices which would ordinarily reflect the fees charged for services rendered, the hours billed, and a narrative description of the work done.

In a letter to Council dated the next day, November 18, Preston declared those files to be protected under the attorney/client privilege, and explained that the County, as a corporate body, is the client.

The letter goes on to state that “Only County Council, acting as a corporate body, can authorize the release of those records to anyone, acting as an individual. If Council authorizes and directs the release, then Councilperson Wilson can have them, otherwise the records will not be released.”

As of the date of publication of this issue, Council has declined to direct the release of that information; several motions by Wilson to do so have died without a second.

Wilson, who had prior to her election been party to a lawsuit against the County concerning the Beaverdam sewer project, admits that part of her original motive in seeking the records was a curiosity about what the County had spent in fighting the suit.

In a recent interview, however, she stressed that she had other reasons as well. 

“I noticed that the County had extraordinary legal expenses. For example, over a 19 month span, the County paid almost $3 million in legal fees, with more than $2 million going to the McNair Law Firm.”

Wilson also explained that while she would have liked to see the file on the Beaverdam suit, she was aware of the potential inappropriateness of being allowed to.

“I would have understood if that file was withheld. But when I was given a blanket denial of access to any of the files, that made no sense to me,” she said.

   At the December 12, 2003 meeting, an opinion was provided by Tom Martin, the McNair  Law Firm attorney who serves as the County Attorney in attendance at all Council meetings, to the effect that the legal vendor files were indeed privileged, and could not be released even under the Freedom of Information Act. He stressed that the actual amounts spent and hours billed were public information; it was and still is the County’s position that the legal narrative is the protected portion of the files.

In April of 2004, the issue of access to the GLR information shifted to a question of cost. In the April 6 minutes of the Council meeting, Wilson refers to a transfer of funds from the County council account to the County’s Finance account in the amount of $1200 charged for copying GLRs for Wilson.

Preston responded by saying that providing the copies amounts to a waste of staff time and expense. It is unclear from the records if that transfer of funds ever actually occurred.

Two weeks later, Wilson  informed Preston by letter of her wish to review all legal vendor files, as previously requested in a letter dated Feb. 12. 

Later that day, at the Council meeting, she presented the members with two rulings from SC Attorney General’s offices, both of which she said upheld her right and responsibility to review such information as she had requested.

In the course of time, Attorney. General Charles Condon had been defeated and replaced by Henry  McMaster; thus the two separate rulings.

She went on to cite S.C. Code Section 4-9-630, which deals with the powers and duties of the administrator. She cited item 6, which states in part, that the administrator is required “to prepare annual, monthly, and other reports for Council on finances and administrative activities of the County.”

She further challenged her fellow members, saying,  “It doesn’t matter to me if you don’t want to see it yourselves, but I’m mandated by the folks who elected me to review this information and acquire it and make it available to them.”

A week later, having changed only the pertinent dates and times, she once again sent the identical request to Preston for access to the legal vendor files.

Preston, for the County’s part, continued to charge for any copying work. The cost was reduced to $.25 a page, resulting in much smaller charges.

That changed later that summer. In July 2004, when Preston informed Wilson by letter that the cost of copying the 3800 page GRL 153 would be $950, and that the funds would be transferred  from the County Council Fund.

On July 26, Wilson made a written request for the legal vendor files once again; a request which the County treated as a request under the Freedom of Information Act. This law allows for “reasonable fees” to be charged for providing copies of public records.

According to a letter to Wilson from Assistant Administrator Michael Cunningham, dated August 12,  the files would be provided only after being redacted, or blacked out to preserve the attorney/ client privilege 

The letter stated that the cost of copying the 2066 pages, as well as an estimated 12 hours of intern time spent in redacting the material would result in  estimated charges of $673.17. The letter further stated that any additional cost beyond the estimate would be billed to her.  Wilson was required to pay that amount in advance, which she did.

On September 10, Preston informed Wilson that there had indeed been additional costs in processing her request. Those costs, based on over 210 hours of manpower, would result in an additional charge of  $2470.56, bringing the total to $3143.83.  The letter further stated that upon payment of the difference, the remaining pages would be forwarded to her.

 Wilson addressed the issue at an October 19 Council meeting, calling  Preston’s response a “very, very sick little game.”

Again, she found no support from the rest of Council. She essentially dared them to direct Preston “to open the books as per the laws of S.C.” The motion was not seconded and died. That was the third time she had made such a motion, without receiving a second needed to bring the question to a vote.

In a letter dated Sept. 10, Preston reiterated the additional costs and reminded Wilson of Cunningham’s notice that additional costs might occur. Wilson fired back on Sept. 15 in a letter demanding an explanation for the “huge discrepancy” in costs. She questioned why 11 Finance Department employees were allowed to see the files, when she, an elected official, was not?

She also demanded that Preston “Provide proof to the citizens of Anderson County that taxpayer’s money has not paid the Young, Clement, Rivers law firm . . for your frivolous ‘slap suit’ against 2 private citizens.”

 Wilson was referring to a libel and defamation lawsuit Preston filed against two Anderson County men after they publicly and repeatedly questioned his ownership of a BMW sports car which he acquired shortly after the sale of the Big Creek landfill to Allied Waste, Inc. That lawsuit, originally dismissed, has recently been revived and depositions, including that of Preston, have recently been taken. 

Preston responded in writing in a letter dated Sept. 21. He answered each of the questions concerning the expenses involved, and explained that the finance department employees have access to all account payable vendor files by virtue of their employment.

As to the demand for proof of his legal fees being legitimately paid,  Preston   stated, “I have previously informed you that no taxpayer dollars have been remitted to Young, Clements Rivers Law Firm for my personal lawsuit, nor will there ever be any taxpayer dollars paid to them or any other law firm, from Anderson County funds for my personal legal work. I do not have to prove anything to you in that regard.”

At the November 9, 2004 Council meeting, County Attorney Tom Martin once again defended the County’s position during a legal presentation. He again stressed that the County, as a corporate body enjoys the client/attorney privilege and that only as a corporate body can that privilege be waived. He again stated that the legal narratives are the only part of the files that are protected by that privilege. He cited case law to support his argument.

Apparently, Councilwoman Wilson was not impressed. At the December 7 Council meeting, Martin informed the Council of the lawsuit involving the writ of mandamus.

A date for the hearing is expected to be set in the near future. Currently, both sides are pursuing the discovery process, which requires the opponents to inform one another of the evidence and witnesses they intend to produce in court.

Four other members of the current Council have served at least one full term. When asked about their experiences in seeking and obtaining information, they each offered different accounts.

Councilman Bill Dees stated that, depending on the information sought, he has had  waits of several days.  “It depends on both the information sought and the other demands on the staff’s time.” Dees did not recall ever being charged for information.

Councilman Fred Tolly said he seldom wanted any information, but added that when he did, he usually left it up to the Council’s clerks to gather it for him.

“I might want some information on a road or something, and I’ll go straight to Holt Hopkins. A lot of times, I just get it over the phone,” he said.

He could not recall an instance when he was charged for any information, but added, “Maybe they just charge it to the Council’s account.”

Councilman Greer reported that he occasionally has to wait 3 or 4 weeks to get information. He has never been charged, but added that he has never made a Freedom of Information request. “I’ve never done that so I’ve never been charged,” Greer said.

   Chairperson Gracie Floyd also said that the wait involved depends on the information requested and the other demands on the staff at the time. She said she couldn’t answer the question about money, because she had never asked for anything like Wilson did. When asked for her reason for declining to vote for the release of the information, she said “I just haven’t given it much thought. I wasn’t convinced that she needs it. What does she need it for?”

West Pelzer officers not allowed to take vehicles home

By Stan Welch

West Pelzer police officers will have to get to work on their own, following a vote Monday night by Town Council to park all town vehicles at the end of the day. Councilman Joe Turner brought the issue before Council. Citing high gas prices, council voted 4-1 to require all municipal vehicles to be parked at the Town hall when not in use.

Mayor Peggy Paxton was the lone dissenting vote. She explained her vote in a later interview.

“First of all, I think these are regular professional police officers, and they should be treated as such. I think this decision will really hurt morale among the officers. I also don’t think the Town will see any significant savings, by the time we pay all these officers mileage for driving their cars to work. On top of all that, it’s going to really hurt their response time in emergencies,” the mayor said.

Also affected by the vote is Chief Bernard Wilson, who the mayor says lives less than half a mile from the Town Hall.

“The Chief is on call 24/7,” said the Mayor. “What happens when he responds to an emergency that’s closer to his house than to the Town hall where his cruiser is parked?”

Council also gave second reading approval to ordinances to annex two pieces of property into the town limits. One piece is privately owned, while the town already owns the other. Annexation will eventually allow the annexing of additional property by providing the continuity required under the laws used to annex property.

Council also expressed their dissatisfaction with an accounting program they purchased last year  to use in the Town’s billing for water and sewer.

The program, based on the old DOS system, has proven less than useful. Council asked the mayor to set a special meeting between Council and the representative who sold them the program, so that they can ask him some questions. No date has been set at this time.

Mayor Paxton also offered several suggestions for procedural changes in the water and sewer billing system. Council is expected to consider the changes between now and the next meeting. New customers, who own their homes, will pay a $50 user fee, which will be non-refundable. Renters will pay the same user fee, as well as an additional $50 fee which will be refunded or applied to the final bill, according to the customer’s wishes.

A proposal to address leaks that customers may experience would offer a choice. The customer could receive a one time per year adjustment to his bill, or they could pay the bill up to $500 as reflected by the actual charges. The adjustment would be made to the sewer bill. After that amount, the charges would be prorated to the Town’s charge from Greenville Water. An agreement reflecting the choice of each customer would be signed.

Changes were also suggested which would address past due accounts, reconnection fees, and the avoidance of deposits  as a result of rental turnovers.

The Mayor reported that the town is making plans with Pelzer for the annual Fourth of July celebration. The Town will also participate in a Spring Cleanup on April 30th and May 7th. The Town will pickup and  haul off just about anything placed at the curb, including white goods. The town requests that as much debris  be bagged up as is possible.

The Town has also become partners with the Foothills Prevent child Abuse Volunteers. Several events will be held during the Blue Ribbon Family Event and Prayer Walk in Williamston on Sunday, April 17th.

The Anmed Medical Outreach Van will be at Town Hall from 9-11 a.m. on Wednesday, April 20th, providing free blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol screenings. For best results, refrain from eating for three hours prior to testing.

Piedmont Relief Center to hold open house

The Piedmont Emergency Relief Center (PERC) will host a ribbon cutting and  open house from 1p. m. to 4 p. m. on  April 17, “Blue Ribbon Sunday,” for their office at the  Piedmont Community Center, Main Street, Piedmont. 

The community is invited to attend and help fill the shelves with donations of canned foods and dry goods.  Interested persons are invited to come see the facility and explore volunteer opportunities, organizers said. Anyone interested can find out how community leaders will help those in need in Piedmont.

Goals of PERC are to address the emergency food needs of persons in the 29673 zip code area.  Although PERC policy is designed to err on the side of helping, the philosophy is to assist in emergencies and not to be the primary source of food for applicants. 

PERC will not try to duplicate the services of other agencies; rather PERC will partner with those agencies and refer applicants when necessary.  In the future, PERC hopes to provide other services to the community as well as be a host site for other agencies.

PERC is partnered with the Piedmont Community Improvement Association and the Piedmont Ministerial Association.  The Piedmont Fire Department and Marsha Rogers have also assisted the organization. 

With the closing of the Estes Textile Plant last Thanksgiving, community leaders accelerated their efforts to get the Piedmont Emergency Relief Center started.  A basement room in the community center, provided by the Piedmont Fire Commissioners, is being renovated for their use.

“With your donations of food, money, and time, PERC will ensure that no one in the area that needs food will go hungry,” organizers said.

Child safety event planned April 17 in Mineral Spring Park

In recognition of Prevent Child Abuse month, there will be a Blue Ribbon family event Sunday April 17 from 1 to 3 p.m. in Mineral Spring Park, downtown Williamston.

The event is being sponsored by the Town of Williamston, the Williamston Police Department, Foothills Prevent Child Abuse, and Strong Communities of Clemson University.

The event will include numerous activities for children and families including a prayer walk for children, games, prizes and other special activities, according to organizers.

Activities planned include family soccer challenge, hi-low basketball throw contest, three-legged hip-hop race, soak-em balloon toss, little squirts-big squirts bulls-eye, family scavenger hunt, and guys versus gals tug-of-war.

There will also be face-painting, balloons, and other surprises. 

Several organizations will provide safety information and activities designed to help keep children safe.

Keep Kids Safe activities will include promoting fire safety, gun lock give-aways, Amber Alert diskettes, and safety officers will give tips on staying safe.

Cat-in-the-Hat will be there to give away free books.

Free refreshments will be provided by McDonald’s  and will include hamburgers, hot dogs and drinks. The world’s largest sundae will also be there.

Organizers invite you to come be a part of the fun and help teach your children and their friends how to be safe in trying times.

Deputies investigate Hardee’s robbery

Anderson County Sheriff’s Deputies investigated the armed robbery of a Powdersville fast food restaurant in which several persons were locked in the business freezer by the thief.

Deputy B. Dugan investigated a complaint of armed robbery and kidnapping April 7 at the Hardee’s at 3004 Earle Morris Hwy. According to the victims’ statements, a black male between the ages of 30-40, 5’7”, and clean cut with a thin beard, came into the restaurant and ordered a shake. He then pulled a gun on Jasper Furniss, and took him into the office. Laura McAlister, the manager, was forced to open the safe and give the thief the money. McAlister, Furniss and James Donaldson, all of Piedmont, were locked in the freezer, where McAlister called police. The suspect had fled by the time the police arrived.

Among other incidents investigated by the Sheriff’s Office: 

April 8 - Brian Cox, of 12 El Jema Forest Drive, Piedmont, reported the theft of a vehicle and heavy equipment from a job site at 4000 Earle Morris Hwy. The equipment and vehicle were valued at $25,000.

April 6 - Deputies C. Wright and C. Holbrooks responded to a complaint by John E. Buffamoyer II, who reported the theft of a set of Titleist golf clubs from his vehicle. The clubs were subsequently sold to the Play It Again Sports store in Anderson. Three clubs and the golf bag were recovered.

WILLIAMSTON

April 11 - Deputy B. Dugan responded to 118 Terrapin Road, where Christopher LeCroy reported his neighbor threatened to blow up his house and everyone in it. The incident stemmed from a prior occurrence when LeCroy called animal control to report that a pit bull, belonging to the neighbor, whose name does not appear in the police reports, had killed LeCroy’s dog. Animal control officers responded and eventually killed the pit bull because of its aggressive behavior. Dugan confirmed this with the animal control officers. A witness also heard the neighbor’s threats. She had left before Dugan arrived.

PELZER

April 7 - Deputy C. Beusse investigated a complaint of burglary by Tammie Stewart, of 456 Looper Road. Stewart reported forced entry into her home and the theft of $340 worth of jewelry from the home.

Area towns encourage residents to clean up

April is Spring Clean month and the Towns of Williamston and West Pelzer will be making extra efforts to pick up items to be taken to the landfill.

In Williamston, items that are not normally picked up including batteries, metal and other items will be picked up but must be separated Street Department head David Roberts said.

Due to increasingly strict landfill regulations items should be separated into manmade items, greenwaste, garbage, and certain other items and cannot be mixed.

Manmade items include construction items such as concrete, glass, boards, etc.

Green items include rocks, limbs, stumps, grass, leaves (unbagged) and other natural items.

Garbage, metal, car batteries and tires must be separated from any of the other piles to be picked up, Roberts said.

Roberts said that items will be picked up as they can this month and the truck may have to come back to pick up other separated items.

Separation is the key because it takes a lot of time if items have to be hand picked, Roberts said. He also said that mixed items are a problem at the landfill.

“They can fine us and tell us not to come back,” he said.

Items that will not be picked up include hazardous materials, items with lead based paints, pallets, and shingles, he said.

If unsure or for information call Roberts at the Williamston Municipal Center at 847-7473.

West Pelzer will offer special pickup of items on April 30 and May 7, according to West Pelzer Mayor Peggy Paxton.

Almost any items, including white goods such as appliances, will be picked up.

Smaller items of the same type should be bagged to avoid trash being spread while awaiting pickup, Paxton said.

PalmettoPride, in partnership with Keep South Carolina Beautiful and Keep America Beautiful, has designated Saturday, April 16, as cleanup day across the state.

The event offers an opportunity to show Palmetto pride and help South Carolina pick up more litter than any other state, organziers said.

The Great American Cleanup is one of many programs that encourage people to care for their communities through volunteer participation.

To join this year’s activities, visit www.kab.org to locate and contact the closest Great American Cleanup participating organization.

Anyone interested in participating during the Great American Cleanup can log onto www.palmettopride.org or call toll-free at 1-877-PAL-PRDE (725-7733)

 

 

 

Road project underway - Grading has begun for a widening project on SC Hwy. 20 in front of the Career and Technology Center. The project will add turning lanes to the school facility in both directions, SCDOT officials said. Students from Palmetto, Wren and Belton Honea Path High School use the heavily traveled roadway on a daily basis during the school year.

West Pelzer Fire Department receives check - Anderson County Council Representative Cindy Wilson presented West Pelzer Fire Department Board of Directors representative J. C. Cox with a check for $8,000. The funding provided by Anderson County Council will help with roofing repairs at the West Pelzer Fire Department. West Pelzer Mayor Peggy Paxton and Council member Earl Brown were also there for the presentation.

 

 

 

 

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