News Archive

(1507) Week of April 11, 2007

New proposal brings up past problems in handling traffic fines
West Pelzer open to considering proposed treatment alternative
Pelzer bike ride slated for Apr. 20
Property owner disputes access to TRL property
Bank robbery possibly prevented
Local photographer, Anderson Museum featured in Sandlapper
Shopping, football highlights for German exchange student
Seems to Me . . . Campaign interests
Special Olympics underway at Westside

New proposal brings up past problems in handling traffic fines

By Stan Welch

An effort to change the way in which Town of Williamston municipal fines are collected, transmitted to the state, and accounted for is unworkable and unlikely to be approved, according to Judge James Cox, who was instrumental in shaping the system currently in use.

Councilman Marion Middleton, Jr. recently presented a proposal for review by the Town attorney. That proposal calls for all fines to be collected and transmitted on a monthly basis. Municipal Judge James Cox Jr. says that the very system of fines itself makes that impossible.

“There are many situations where people are given time payments on fines and such. The fines can’t be written off until they are completely paid, or until the time has been served instead. Accounting for these fines on a monthly basis is simply impossible.”

Cox says the current system is a marked improvement over the system in place when former Chief Richard Turner held the fines until they were signed off, then put into the general fund. The new system was put in place after auditor Bob Daniel, who had been called in to help the Town with its financial problems, learned that the fines were being funneled through the general fund.

For a number of years, a fairly common, but legally dubious, system of assigning traffic fines was followed by the town of Williamston. Only in the last few years has the system of not only imposing, but accounting for, traffic fines been modified and brought into compliance with state law.

According to documents obtained by The Journal under the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, it was Judge Cox who raised the issue first with Mayor Marion Middleton, Sr., and later with Mayor Phillip Clardy, once he had taken office.

Judge Cox, according to the documents obtained, presented Mayor Middleton with a letter, dated June 13, 1997, outlining his concerns about the court’s practice of reducing points for speeding offenses, while imposing the fine set for the greater offense. The practice allowed the driver in effect to plead guilty to the lesser offense, and receive a reduction in points, while paying the fine for the greater offense. Known as “giving a break on the points”, the practice is attractive to drivers whose insurance rates can increase dramatically based on points levied against one’s license.

Based on calculations provided to Mayor Middleton by the Judge, the practice was resulting in the imposition of a standard ninety dollar fine when in effect, the total fine, including the assessment of 52 per cent which is tacked on to such fines, should have been thirty eight dollars. That amount consisted of a twenty five dollar fine and the legal allowable assessment of fifty two per cent, or thirteen dollars, added on. Those fines existed in 1997. They are considerably higher today.

 According to Judge Cox’s letter, a police chief from another town first raised the issue with him, leading Cox to contact several state authorities seeking an informal opinion of the practice and its propriety and legality. All three authorities, the S.C. Court Administration, The S.C. Attorney General’s Office, and the S.C. Department of Highways and Public Transportation, as it was known then, agreed that the practice was improper and should not be continued.

Judge Cox did suggest that a careless driving ordinance might be considered by the Town Council; an ordinance that would allow a similar trade off while complying with state law. The letter stated, “Careless driving ordinances do not assess points and are not subject to fine schedules.” He remarked that the Attorney General, in the informal opinion provided to two other municipalities concerning such an ordinance, had expressed his belief that such an ordinance was within the authority of a town to manage its traffic.

Judge Cox also informed Mayor Middleton that he had discovered that the Court had been sending fifty two percent of the aggregate amount of the fine and the assessment to the state court administration. In fact, only fifty two per cent of the base fine was supposed to go to the state, and not a percentage of the aggregate amount.

The letter states, “I believe this has resulted in a net loss of seventeen per cent of the Town’s lawful revenues. Last year alone (1996, editor’s note), this probably cost the Town in the neighborhood of thirty five thousand dollars. This amount could probably be recouped from the State if application were made, but there may also be reasons why such a recoupment should not be sought. That is a matter for you to discuss among yourselves.”

 Whether the Town ever applied for the refunded monies is unknown. Judge Cox did, however, adjust the calculations to reflect the proper future payments to the State.

Cox ended the letter by stating that he would be implementing a proper fine schedule beginning on July 1, 1997, in order to bring the Town into compliance with state law.

Five years later, when Mayor Clardy was newly installed, the situation continued basically unchanged. Said Mayor Clardy, when contacted for comment for this story, “I was made aware of the court fines situation shortly after taking office. I immediately instructed both the Judge and the police chief that we would conduct the court system and comply with the state fine schedule in such a manner as to comply fully with state law. Several months later, I learned that the system had been manipulated in such a way as to avoid my orders, and other actions were subsequently taken.”

Again, according to documents obtained by The Journal under the SCFOIA, that manipulation of the system involved rescheduling a large number of cases to be heard by then Assistant Judge John Neel, who had been hired by Council to assist Judge Cox.

Cox, in a detailed report prepared for South Carolina State Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean H. Toal, made some startling allegations against several police officers, including then Chief Richard Turner, Turner’s son Steven, who was also a police officer, and Lt. Dan Hart. Those allegations include outright subordination, as well as intimidation and contempt of court.

Citing various conflicts with Officer Steven Turner, as well as several confrontations over the fine schedule situation with Chief Turner, Cox said that Chief Turner began having his officers schedule their court appearances for Judge Neel’s sessions. Upon learning that, Cox approached Neel, who stated his intention to continue to sign off on the tickets, based on Cox’s opinion that such an act was not criminal in itself.

Said Cox in the report, which was later withheld after Chief Turner was fired, “I also told Judge Neel that I did not believe I had the authority to order him to discontinue the practice, as I thought such matters were only reversible through the appeals process.” Cox would later learn that he had not only the authority, but the duty to stop Neel from participating in continuation of the illegal fine schedule.

Cox, according to the report, made an impromptu stop at the S.C. Attorney General’s Office while in Columbia on personal business. He was unable to speak with an attorney but a special SLED agent assigned to the Office spoke with him. The agent later contacted Cox and suggested that he contact then Solicitor Druanne White, which he did. According to Cox’s report, she declined to involve herself, citing her closeness to the Chief. She suggested Cox write to Chief Justice Toal.

Cox, on October 28, 2002, issued an administrative order prohibiting Judge Neel, whom he has repeatedly characterized as being honest and having intentionally done no wrong, from hearing any further cases. The order said, “I have noticed that a small number of officers have been, only very recently, trying to schedule cases at 4:00 p.m. so they may appear before the Assistant Judge. This practice is specifically forbidden and the Court will enforce this Order through the contempt powers if necessary.”

The next day, he issued a memo to Judge Neel, informing him that he was to hear no cases except those brought before the court by Steven Turner, if they both agreed, without special consent from Judge Cox. Cox again restated his belief that Judge Neel had not knowingly done anything wrong.

Judge Cox, when contacted for comment for this article, declined, saying that judicial ethics prohibited him from doing so. He did, however, explain that court fines are now funneled into a single account, and a check is written from the Court to the Town Clerk, accompanied by documentation of all fines collected. The Town Clerk then sends the funds on to the S.C. Court Administration, and maintains records of all fines and payments for future reference.

Several sources close to the situation claim that approximately thirty seven thousand dollars in cash was found in the police department offices after the Chief left. The town’s auditing firm is reportedly seeking a way to return that money to the Town, possibly through the police department fund which was established for use in transmitting fines from the court to the Town Clerk, and on to the state system.

West Pelzer open to considering proposed treatment alternative
Savings could be considerable

By Stan Welch

A month ago the West Pelzer Town Council told a representative of Goldie &Associates that they were willing to listen to a plan to merge the wastewater treatment programs of Pelzer, West Pelzer and Williamston despite frequent discouragement from DHEC over the possibility.

Monday night, the Council agreed to consider a feasibility study, but again expressed their concerns that DHEC’s professed support of the plan might not materialize. Paul Lewis appeared before the Council at the March meeting to propose that West Pelzer and Pelzer join Williamston in their plan to use a land application approach to their sewer problems.

He was told that the Town had approached DHEC several times about alternatives to connecting to the new Western Carolina treatment plant, and had repeatedly been told that no other plan was of interest to DHEC. Lewis reported that officials at the Rural Development Authority, or RDA, had said that DHEC would support such a cooperative effort. He promised to investigate further and return to the Town Council.

Lewis was not there Monday night, but a proposal for the feasibility study was on hand for review. The letter which accompanied the actual proposal stated that RDA has “agreed to meet with DHEC and the three towns to present the data from the study and to assist the towns with receiving DHEC’s approval for the project.” The letter further states that DHEC Enforcement is amenable to any approach that the Towns  might take that would result in their tying into a regional plant.

The land application is attractive to DHEC because it would remove three towns from the waste stream that is currently being discharged into the Saluda River. It is attractive to the towns because it will stabilize the costs of treatment and disposal, costs which pose one of the most persistent and serious challenges facing any small town today.

In the case of West Pelzer, it would allow them to avoid a projected quadrupling of the sewer bills for the Town’s people.

The cost of the study, which Goldie & Associates hopes to complete within twelve weeks, is $8750. Split three ways, each town would pay $2916.66. Goldie and Assoc. representatives are scheduled to meet with Pelzer’s Town Council at noon on Friday. Some of the West Pelzer Council members plan to attend that meeting as well.

Councilman Pete Davis seemed willing to consider the alternative approach, but added, “I’d like to see some commitment in writing from DHEC before we spend the money. They have said a lot of things in the past that didn’t materialize.” Mayor Paxton agreed, adding, “I do think this will be the best thing for us, if it works out. It just seems like the best plan for our citizens.”

Council also voted to spend $792.50 on fifty new meter boxes to be installed during the ongoing construction of new water lines. The older boxes do not allow room for repairs without digging up the area around them. The new boxes are larger and shaped differently.

Mayor Paxton also announced that training will soon begin for all Town officials or staff who are involved in the Town’s court system. The state department of Court Administration is implementing a new system that will put all local courts on the same central state system, allowing for much faster accountability and reporting. The training will be free for the time being, but not after the state makes it mandatory. It will cost the Town approximately $70 a month to be on the new system, once it goes into effect later this summer.

Council also voted to spend $1250 on their share of the expenses for this year’s Fourth of July celebration, which is always held in conjunction with Pelzer. This year, in keeping with tradition, the celebration will be held on the Saturday before the fourth, or June 30.

In old business, Councilman Pete Davis asked the Mayor about the status of money contributed by the citizens several years ago for a drug dog. The money needed to get such a dog from the charitable organization that trains and supplies them was never raised, but the money donated has not been returned. Davis said several citizens continue to ask about it.

Mayor Paxton explained that getting money back from charities is difficult. “They don’t usually return money. I had hoped we could transfer it to the police department, but we can’t even do that. I will look into it myself and see if we can do anything.”

Pelzer bike ride slated for Apr. 20

The second annual spring ride for Pelzer’s kids will take place on Saturday, April 21at the Pelzer Ball fields on Highway 20. 

The event will include a motorcycle ride with barbecue plates and t-shirts and a variety of vendors. Registration will be between 10 a.m. and 12 noon. Cost is $20 per person or $30 per couple and includes a barbecue plate and T-shirt.

Non-riders can enjoy a barbecue plate for $6 and get a T-shirt for $9, organizers said.

There will be door prizes and a 50/50 drawing.

Proceeds will go towards providing activities for Pelzer youth.

For more information, contact Pelzer Mayor Kenneth Davis at 864-314-2112 or B. J. Mullinax at 864-245-0925.

Property owner disputes access to TRL property

By Stan Welch

Joe Kelly says he has been fighting the battle over access to the old proposed Tri-County Landfill site for fifteen years. Now, as the Appalachian Council of Governments (ACOG) advertises the 516 acre site for sale, Kelly says he still controls access to the property.

“I have never accepted any offer they have made. That road is still mine, and I expect to get paid fair for it,” said Kelly in a recent interview with The Journal.

The access in question is a short stretch of unkempt, rugged road, with Kelly’s gate across it. The gate stays open because Kelly, against his will, and at the advice of one of several lawyers he has had during his fight, convinced him to give Pickens County an easement to allow access to the Eighteen Mile wastewater treatment plant. That came several years after the original plan for a regional landfill fell apart.

That easement, known as Willy Wonka Road, forks off of M&M Road approximately forty yards past Kelly’s gate. M&M Road, barely a lane wide, runs on past the back of the house belonging to Kelly’s daughter, and dead ends in front of the residence of Kelly’s son. The road got its name from the first initials of the two residents who lived just on the other side of Kelly’s property line.

“The lawyer told me I had to give them an easement for the treatment plant. But they bought two acres along that road, with a tumble down old trailer and an old house on it. They paid about $80,000 for it. I’ve got two acres, pretty much, with a livable house on it. The last offer they made me was forty thousand. I told them no, and I haven’t heard anything from them in a good while,” said Kelly.

A call by The Journal to Pickens County administrator Chappell Hurst, Jr. revealed that the access to the property, according to him, and to bid documents, is in fact M&M Road. Kelly says that’s a lie, and he offers a court document dated 2000 stating that Pickens County’s claim was dismissed.

The property is being sold following a court settlement between the three counties that originally entered into an agreement to develop a regional landfill that they would all share. That arrangement began to unravel shortly after current Anderson County Administrator Joey Preston was hired. Within a year, the arrangement was shattered and the Big Creek Landfill had been sold to Allied Waste Inc., which now operates the Anderson Regional Landfill on the site.

According to the terms of the arrangement, Anderson County should have lost its entire investment, which was well over $1million  at the time. Instead, they fought the case in court and managed to reclaim a one third share in the proceeds of the sale of the property.

The Appalachian Council of Governments is handling the sale, but has little information on the issues at hand. “We were asked to supervise this sale, mainly because none of the Counties wanted to do it. As for questions of access, I would have to refer you to the parties involved,” said Joe Newton. “The bid package issued by ACOG contained nothing but instructions for making a bid, and forms for doing so. Any maps, appraisals, locator materials or other information, such as the point of access, were to be available at the purchasing office of  Pickens County. Steve Grant, of that office, says he doesn’t know a lot about it. “I kind of started here in the middle of this, so I can’t say what the access is. The County attorney should be able to tell you.” Efforts to reach the county attorney before press time were unsuccessful.

Hurst was also less than firm in his answer concerning access. “It’s my understanding that the access is through M&M Road,” he said.

Bids for the property are sealed and are due no later than April 17. Meantime, Joe Kelly wonders what is going on. “If they told you they have access through here, they just flat lied. Isn’t that something how they would lie like that?” he asked.

Bank robbery possibly prevented

Anderson County Sheriff’s Deputy M.D. Campbell may have helped prevent a bank robbery in Piedmont last Thursday.

Deputy Campbell responded to the Sun Trust Bank on Hwy. 86 in reference to two suspicious black males in a car in the parking lot. Bank employees reported that the two men were wearing hoods on their heads and the employees were afraid they were about to be robbed.

Campbell located the suspect vehicle and initiated a traffic stop. He detained the two men. S.C. Transport Officer J. Hand arrived on the scene with a K-9 unit. The dog alerted to the vehicle. Subsequently, two Lorcin .380 handguns were found in the vehicle. Patrick Haygood II, BM, 20, 5’8", 225 pounds, of Piedmont, and Xavier Foster, BM, 20, 5’8", 155 pounds, of Mauldin, were arrested and charged with possession and  unlawful carrying of a firearm.

PIEDMONT

April 6 – R.M. Cooper was dispatched to 113 Cypress Springs where Shawn Messenger stated that someone had damaged his air conditioning unit. Six small holes were found in the unit, with damage estimated at $2500.

 April 7 – M.A. Whitfield responded to 2620 River Rd., where Brad Worley, of Worley Concrete reported the theft of a 14 foot enclosed utility trailer, containing the body of a 1963 Willys Jeep inside, which had been stolen from the business location.

April 7 – T. B. Dugan was dispatched to 108 Wren Dr. where Jonathan McNeely reported that someone had broken the taillights out of his vehicle. Damage was estimated at $100.

April 7 – M.K. Davis responded to 109 Ross St., where Horace Jackson reported that a 2005 Honda CR125R dirt bike had been stolen from his garage. The red dirt bike is valued at $3500.

April 7 – K.D. Pigman was dispatched to 501 Shiloh Church Rd. where Anita Lee reported that her storage warehouse had been broken into and several pieces of equipment taken.

PELZER

April 7 – T.B. Dugan responded to the Family Dollar store where manager Joyce Hales reported that a black male, between 25-45 years old had stolen an unknown quantity of over the counter medication. He left in a black Mitsubishi Galant with SC tag # 839PZP.

April 8 – M.K. Davis was dispatched to 114 Boggs Rd. where Tracy Bender reported that someone had broken into her home and stolen a computer and three sets of wooden blinds from the windows.

 WILLIAMSTON

April 8 – T.B. Dugan responded to 2129 Beaverdam Rd. in response to a report of a fight. Upon arriving, he heard from Karen Moore, WF, 31 and Rachael Rish, WF, 20 concerning a physical altercation they were in. Each woman said the other woman started it. Each woman had five witnesses who agreed to their version of the story. One of Rish’s witnesses, her brother Michael Rish, however, was found to have outstanding warrants in Spartanburg County. He was arrested and transported to ACDC.

BELTON

April 7 – P.D. Marter responded to 1110 Breazeale Rd. where Patricia Phillips reported a break-in at her residence, while she was at the grocery store.

April 8 –K. D. Pigman was dispatched to 140 Callaham Rd., where Daniel Callaham reported that someone had entered a vacant residence owned by him at 130 Callaham Rd. A .22 caliber handgun was found by the front door. The gun was entered into evidence.

Local photographer, Anderson Museum featured in Sandlapper

The spring 2007 edition of Sandlapper magazine includes a photo on the back cover by local photographer Steven Faucette.

Faucette  took the “Hung out to dry” photograph, which features colorful dresses on a clothes line in upstate South Carolina near Marietta.

Faucette has had several photographs published in the Magazine of South Carolina which features articles and pictures of the Palmetto State.

The spring issue also features the Anderson County Museum with exhibits such as Textiles, Electricity and Agriculture and a religion exhibit with information on some of the 500-plus churches in the county.

The two-page article, sponsored by Anderson County, includes comments from Anderson County Administrator Joey Preston and Glenn Brill, Director of the Anderson Convention and Visitors Bureau.

More than a dozen topics are presented in the spring issue. 

Editor Aida Rogers examines whether South Carolina barbecue could become the state’s biggest tourism draw; Columbia author Tom Poland details how the South Carolina film office is aggressively luring moviemakers; and Chapin writer Fred Leach explains why humanitarian work is so important to Hootie and the Blowfish.

Also featured are the College of Charleston’s nationally renowned sailing team, the competitive spirit still aflame in South Carolina’s senior athletes, a scrappy girls softball squad in Winnsboro and a photo essay celebrating spring in the Palmetto State.

Sandlapper is published by the Sandlapper Society, Inc. a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. 

Copies are avialable at the Anderson County Museum, Books-A-Million, McDowell’s Emporium and the Pendleton Historic Commission.

Subscriptions to Sandlapper are included with a membership to the Sandlapper Society, Inc.

To join, call 800-908-0308 or email dianne@sandlapper.org.

Shopping, football highlights for German exchange student

NACEL Open Door representative  Richard Wagner helps place exchange students with host families throughout the upstate.

Students are matched with host families with similar interests and Wagner places as many as 20 or more students, mostly musicians or athletes, in high schools across the upstate including Palmetto and Wren.

Exchange students are French or German teens, ages 15 to 17, male and female. Host families provide a bed, food and include the student in their family life including church, school and holidays, according to Wagner.

“The student becomes a working member of the family,” Wagner said. “They are insured and have spending money.”

“We match the host family interests, music or sports, with the same interest or similar of exchange students.”

This year he matched a German teen with a local family based on music and band.

Patricia “Patty” Fachtner is from Munich, Germany. She has spent the entire school year, including a portion of last summer, with her host family, the Ratchfords, of Williamston.

The Ratchfords are Patrick and Angie Ratchford and their daughters Susie, a sophomore at Palmetto High School and Heather, who attends college.

 The Ratchfords heard Wagner speak at a band banquet and considered hosting an exchange student. Both Susie and Heather were very excited and encouraged their parents to allow it “for the experience.”

They chose to host Patty because she had a music background and liked pets. Susie is a member of the PHS band.

Patty,who would be joining the Palmetto High School Marching Regiment as part of her learning experience, came early for band camp, arriving July 18 of last year.

Exchange students normally have orientation in Chicago, which Patty missed, coming directly to Williamston for band camp.

Before coming to America, she had played in a small orchestra. She plays alto-sax and is an accomplished musician, but had never participated in a marching band.

Not only did she have the experience of a new family, but she had to learn to march.

“Learning to march and the coordination was the hardest,” she said. “I can read music and play, but it was a lot in a short time.”

“At first, I didn’t know how to march and play at the same time. It was really cool,” she said.

The heat and humidity and the fire ants were also an experience for the teen from Germany.

“The heat and humidity was something different. It doesn’t get that hot in Germany,” she said of the hot  August days spent practicing in South Carolina.

“I felt comfortable with the people really fast,” she said.

Patty said she spent most of the day including lunch and dinner with members of the Palmetto Band “It was like a family,” she said. 

“I like Palmetto. At first I was kinda scared, because I didn’t know what it would be like.”

The Mustang Regiment participated in six competitions during the fall, with the routine constantly changing.

She said she had made a lot of friends and was getting familiar with the marching routine by the time the Upperstate competition rolled around.

Patty said her older sister was an exchange student, who went to Kentucky. Several of her classmates decided to and so did she.

In Germany, there are 13 years of school, with the 11th grade taken off to travel, she said.

Patty has attended 11th grade classes at Palmetto. But even attending school was an experience.

In Germany, the students stay in the same class, while the teachers rotate. In the US, it is the opposite, with students changing classes.

On the first day of class, she had many friends from band camp who helped show her around the school and find her locker, though she did have some trouble with the lock, only to find out she had been given the wrong combination.

Art and band are her favorite classes and she enjoys English.

It has been a learning experience for both Patty as a foreign exchange student and for her host family.

For Patty other highlights include attending her first high school football game and a  Clemson football game.

“I didn’t understand football,” she said. But she did enjoy playing in the band before a crowd during halftime though she echoed a sentiment many band students and their parents have.

“People didn’t really pay attention to the band,” she said. “It was a good practice for competition.”

Other new and fun experiences were attending the Palmetto Jr. AFROTC military ball, getting ready for the upcoming prom, and especially shopping.

According to Patty, there is just one mall in Munich. “Most of the stores are little stores, all on one street,” she said.

She also went to Charleston, the Biltmore house and Myrtle Beach, which she said “was fun.”

She also found the Ratchfords big driveway and yard interesting. 

“There is not that much land in Germany,” she said. “In Germany, people walk most places.”

Other things we might take for granted which she found of interest were pickup trucks and giving tools for gifts.

She also found another tradition interesting, shopping for gifts on the day after Thanksgiving. “We shopped all day and night,” she said. 

She was surprised by getting presents at Christmas from people she hadn’t met including church and other family members.

She has received a high school ring, something they do not have back home and “made a lot of friends.”

Patty has also enjoyed the eating experience in America.

She likes everything from Chulupas to the menu at the Olive Garden, hot dogs, and cube steak, but doesn’t care for grits.

She said she has enjoyed barbecue and cookouts and hoped to get to ride a tube at the lake before she returns to Germany in June.

“She has fit in with the rest of the family,” Heather said, “She gets yelled at just like the rest of us.”

“It has been a growing experience, “ her host mom Angie said, “We added another person. We learned from her, she’s learned from us.”

Although she has not been homesick, Patty did say she missed skiing in Germany.

A trip to North Carolina was fun, but wasn’t the same as skiing in the German Alps.

“She won’t teach us any German,” family members said, but they enjoyed listening to her speak  in German with her mother.

Wagner said there  are two exchange programs he is associated with, one working with students from Western and Eastern Europe and another with students from Asia and South America.

The US State Department Scholoarship Program for Future Leaders Exchange (FLEX) involves students from Euro-Asia and the Ukraine. 

Congress approved the program after the breakup of the former Soviet Union in order to bring the best students from 15 independent countries to live with an American family and go to high school.

As part of the scholarship requirement, the student must perform 50 hours of volunteer work, political, economic and social systems.

 Only 800 of 30,000 applicants earn the scholarships, according to Wagner.

The program recruits the top students. All exchange students speak English and have good grades, he said. “There are very few problems.”

Most are in the 10th or 11th grade. In Europe, students often take off a year from their home country school to travel or exchange with another country.

In addition to having exchange students come for a year, the program is also available for a one month exchange during the summer where foreign students live the daily life of the host family.

Anyone interested in hosting an exchange for the next school year is invited to call Richard Wagner for more information.

He can be reached at 864-607-5339 or francorw@aol.com.

Seems to Me . . . Campaign interests

By Stan Welch

Well, former County Councilman Mike Holden is really making a splash these days. He is currently under scrutiny for allegedly misusing some of his campaign donations. According to anonymous sources, twenty two hundred dollars apparently made its way into Holden’s personal bank account. The funds were allegedly received during Holden’s 2004 campaign.

That anonymous information was transmitted to the State Ethics Commission in a telephone call, and for once in a blue moon, seemed to spur them to action. They in turn apparently got Solicitor Chrissy Adams’ attention, and she is apparently contemplating an investigation.

Mr. Holden kind of broke the investigation’s momentum by firing back rather than hunting a lawyer and a hole. Instead he responded, claiming that County Administrator Joey Preston threw checks at him faster than he could field them all. Whether Ms. Adams immediately expanded her investigation to include those charges is unknown. But if she didn’t she durn sure should have.

Holden says Preston orchestrated the allegations against him to remove him from the political scene as a potential candidate against current Councilman Michael G. Thompson. Holden ran against Thompson in the last race, and lost in the Republican primary. He protested the results of that election; a decision he says led Preston to initiate the charges against him.

Preston completely denies the charges that Holden made against him. But he made a public admission that I, less schooled in the ways of Anderson County politics, find remarkable. Preston admitted that candidates come to him for a list of potential contributors to their campaigns. The clear implication was that he provides such a list to some candidates.

I guess what I’m trying to figure out is why he still has his job. I can’t speak for every county in South Carolina, but I have trouble imagining any other county in this state where a hired administrator could assist elected officials and candidates in obtaining campaign financing and avoid being fired. The argument that any activity of a political nature took place on Preston’s time and not the County’s is laughable. The man makes more than $150,000 a year. He is always on the clock, and always representing the County as its administrator. In my opinion, to do so properly requires a demonstrated political objectivity, not a personal or partisan involvement in the electoral system.

He works very hard, as do several of his staffers, to make sure everyone knows he represents Anderson County. To claim otherwise, to argue that his influence and power in Anderson County do not play into his political activities, is to elevate naivete’ to a form of mental illness.

It is laughable to me that official after official, and candidate after candidate, stands up and boasts about their political integrity. Yet a majority of the current Council, or past Councils for that matter, has never once questioned this imminently questionable practice. The inevitable question must be how many of those Council members asked for and / or received financial assistance from those on lists provided by Preston?

Names like Swistock and Zeiche and Longshore and Carrithers appear on the campaign disclosure forms of candidate after candidate, regardless of the district they represent. James Swistock, for example, routinely contributes thousands of dollars during each election cycle, offering financial backing to various candidates during both primary and general elections. Jim Swistock lives in Pennsylvania. Supposedly, his only tie to Anderson County is the Anderson Regional Landfill, which is owned by Allied Waste, Inc. Swistock is an officer of the corporation. Zeiche also represents Allied Waste, while Jim Longshore, Jim Broyles, and Marshall Carrithers also represent companies which do business with the County on a regular and lucrative basis. These associations, while almost certainly legal, still raise questions of propriety and conflict of interest. One has to wonder if the Solicitor finds any of that interesting?

For Preston to be actively involved in a political process which common sense, much less propriety, would dictate that he stay far away from is arrogant and destructive in ways both alarming and incomprehensible. Yet he has the temerity to question why District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson wonders about his motives, when he helps opponent after opponent obtain funds to run against her.

In 2004, Wilson opponent Bob Austin, received more than $2500 from Allied and Swistock and  Longshore and Keith McLeod, whose father is a partner in the McNair Law Firm.

In recent years, every opponent who has run against Wilson has received at least the offer of help from Swistock and others on the list. Most have accepted the money; none has managed to defeat Wilson. Still, the persistent efforts to unseat her make her suspicions of Preston and his motives more understandable.

Holden’s charges speak of a deeper involvement than even the supplying of a contributor’s list. He states clearly that Preston hand delivered him checks from various sources. Again, Preston firmly denies such charges.

Whether this is Preston’s list is not even the point. The point, really, is the fact that Preston even has a list of contributors. Is his involvement in the electoral process legal? I do not know. I do not know that it isn’t. But it seems to me that the Solicitor should have been interested long before Mike Holden’s conduct came to the fore.

Seems to me the County Council should be interested too. If they can afford to be.

Special Olympics underway at Westside

On Thursday, April 12, the Anderson County Special Populations and Recreation Department will host the 29th Annual Special Olympics Area 14 Spring Games, at the Westside High School Stadium. More than 1,100 athletes from around the county are registered for this year’s event.

The opening ceremony will begin at 9:30 a.m., and competitive events will start at 10 a.m. Anderson Mayor Terrence Roberts and County Administrator Joey R. Preston will assist with the opening ceremonies.

“The dedication and unselfish efforts of our volunteers make events like this possible,” said Special Populations & Recreations Coordinator Suzanne McMahan. “Spring Games mean so much to our athletes who train all year for this opportunity to compete. This event will allow some of our athletes to qualify for State Summer Track & Field Games which will take place May 4-6 at Fort Jackson.”

The games will include all of the traditional Special Olympic events including the Softball Throw, Standing Long Jump, 50-Meter Dash, 100-Meter Run, 200-Meter Run, 400-Meter Run, 100-Meter Fast Walk, 400-Meter Fast Walk, 50-Meter Wheelchair Race, 30-Meter Wheelchair Slalom Course and 25-Meter Wheelchair Race. Developmental events for athletes under six years old include the Bean Bag Toss, Tennis Ball Throw, 10-Meter Assisted Walk, 25-Meter Walk and a 25-Meter Run.

“These games are an excellent opportunity for the community to witness the skill, courage and accomplishments of our athletes,” said Gloria Byrd, Co-Director of Area 14 Special Olympics. “We hope everyone will come out to these games and join us as we celebrate the spirit of these wonderful athletes.”

 

 

 

 

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