News Archive

(1808) Week of Apr. 30, 2008

Community in shock
Supplemental report
Principal named for Pelzer Elementary
Historic cannon ready for action
Cannon was sabotaged
Board names Powdersville High; approves construction timelines
Community invited to pray in park
Celebrate improved Brookdale Park
Area celebrates Earth Day in park
County budget work session focuses on animal shelter and other projects
Cooper Park recycling center to open soon
Compensation increases indicate Preston job performance positive
Seems to Me . . .Shared responsibility (in an election year)

 Community in shock

The Powdersville community in Northern Anderson County is in shock following an incident in which four people residing in a tan and blue house at 153 Pine Oake Drive were shot and killed Saturday by an 18 year old family member.

Nathaniel Casey Dickson was charged Saturday with the slaying of his father, Samuel Andrew Dickson, 46; Dickson’s wife, Martiza Hurtado Dickson, 46; her daughter Melissa Jilliam Salazar, 19; and Taylor Alex Dickson, 14, brother of the man arrested.

According to 10th Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams, she plans to seek the death penalty.

“I intend to seek the death penalty, but I will not make that decision until I talk to all the family members and talk with law enforcement and go over the evidence.”

All four of those killed received gunshot wounds from a shotgun according to Anderson County Deputy Coroner Don McCown, who described the scene as the worst he has seen in 31 years.

Samuel and Taylor Dickson were shot multiple times. Hurtado and Salazar were shot once each McCown said.

One victim was found in a bedroom, another in the living room, another in a laundry room. Andy Dickson was found in front of the house near the street.

Authorities said the shooting apparently took place between 8 a.m and 9 a.m Saturday.

Authorities would not say what led them to Nathaniel Dickson, where he was found or other details of the arrest.

According to reports, Dickson visited a friend in Belton and the two went riding four wheelers.

Deputies took him into custody around 8 p.m. when the men returned to the friend’s grandparents house on Calhoun Rd. in Belton.

Dickson, who graduated from Wren High School last year, was described by neighbors as a “polite” boy who didn’t get into trouble.

One neighbor said that Dickson had lived on his own for several months and recently moved back into the home.

On Monday, counselors and pastors were at Wren Middle to help students and teachers cope with the tragedy.

Anderson School District One officials said Wren Middle is mourning the loss of Taylor Dickson, who was an 8th grade student at the school. “This tragic event has saddened the entire community, and especially the school family at Wren Middle,” said Jane Harrison, District One spokesperson.

Teachers and community members remember Taylor as a wonderful and fun loving young man full of life with a kind and gentle spirit; a nice boy with a wonderful sense of humor and well-liked by his classmates and friends.

Seventh grade teacher, Bobby Rollins remembered Taylor as a joy to teach. He added, “He always had positive things to say and he was respectful to all his teachers.” Shannon Holland, one of Taylor’s sixth grade teachers said, “Taylor was a sweet, sincere boy who always had a smile on his face.  He loved baseball and his father’s homemade chili that he shared with me. Taylor’s face beamed with pride when he talked about his father.”

Mary Jane Swygert shared, “He was always in a good mood and had the best attitude. He was always keeping me up to date with the happenings of his pet chicken that he treated like a pet dog. We had an immediate connection through our love for animals.” Another teacher, Janice Webster said, “Taylor Dickson was an Honors student who had a captivating smile.  Taylor was looked upon as fun loving by his peers.  He made us laugh, and for that we loved him.”

Jessica Tollison, teacher and Beta Club sponsor said, “Taylor had an engaging personality. He had qualities that should have made for a bright future. It is heart-breaking to know he will never be able to realize that future.”

Taylor attended Hunt Meadows in elementary school. He was fondly remembered by Principal Nancy Prince as a model student and sweet child.

Certified counselors were at the school on Monday for the students and faculty. Principal Robin Fulbright has worked to make sure all concerns are dealt with in a timely and appropriate manner. Time will be allowed for students to process their feelings and to grieve.  

Melissa Jilliam Salazar, Taylor’s step-sister of the home was also killed in the incident. She was a former student at Wren High and graduated in 2006-2007. According to Principal Robbie Binnicker, “She was a good student and attended the Career and Technology Center in the Health and Medical program.”

District One Superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler stated, “This is a devastating tragedy for Anderson School District One and our hearts go out to Taylor and Melissa’s family and friends. Our prayers and assistance are extended to those hurting. It has not only affected the school and students but the entire District One community.”

Supplemental report

By Stan Welch

 “Reporting deputy responded to an assist EMS call on Pine Lake Road, Easley SC – the victim was reported to have fallen. Upon arrival reporting deputy found a white male subject laying on the side of Pine Lake Road with obvious injuries to his person. EMS responded to the scene and found the male to be deceased. The residence at 153 Pine Lake Road was linked to the male victim. The residence was checked and other persons, inside the residence were found to be deceased.”

That stark and unemotional prose is the first official description of the worst mass murder in the recent history of Anderson County. Responding deputy K.J. Winn made that report. He was the deputy who entered the home where Nathan Dickson apparently shotgunned and killed his father and brother, and his stepmother and stepsister, before driving to Belton to spend the day riding four wheelers with friends. Neighbors reported hearing the shots but several said non-lethal gunshots in the rural neighborhood were not uncommon.

Winn found the first body, that of the father, Samuel Andrew Dickson, Jr., known as Andy Dickson, a 46 year old electrician, who encouraged  his sons’ love of baseball. Dickson was first discovered by neighbors, the Dilelios, who reported hearing the shots and seeing a car drive out of the Dickson’s driveway. The incident report cited above described a 2002 Ford Explorer with SC license tag 237PKD.

Both Nathan and Alex Taylor, 14, the brother he allegedly shot and killed, played on the recreational fields of the Wren area from the time they were tall enough to swing a bat. Nathan graduated from Wren High School; at the time of his death, Taylor was enrolled at Wren Middle School. Jilian Salazar was a student at Tri County Tech, planning on a career in veterinary medicine.

The two female victims, Maritza Hurtado Dickson, Andy Dickson’s second wife of a short time, and her daughter, Jilian Salazar, at nineteen the same age as her stepbrother Nathan, were found shot and killed inside the house. One of the females wasn’t found until later in the day, behind a dryer in the laundry room. Sheriff David Crenshaw confirmed the discovery of the fourth body at 2 p.m. on Saturday.

Chief Deputy Creed Hashe said that the ACSO was looking for Nathan all day. “Our first concern was for his safety. Then, we wanted to talk to him and inform him of the crimes. We later began to look at him as a person of interest. There was some forensic evidence that pointed towards him.”

Later that evening, after Nathan Dickson had been lured back to the house of his friend, Brantley Creel’s grandfather, and taken into custody for questioning, Sheriff Crenshaw confirmed that Dickson was a suspect. Just three hours later, Crenshaw held a press conference, naming the victims and stating that Dickson would be charged in all four murders.

While the circumstances of the crimes meet the criteria for seeking the death penalty, Tenth Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams has not yet announced whether she will seek the death penalty on the case.

Principal named for Pelzer Elementary

Dr. Eunice WilliamsDr. Eunice Williams has been named as principal of Pelzer Elementary and also director of the District Title One program for the 2008-2009 school year.  Dr. Williams has worked in Anderson One since 2005 as Instructional Coach and Title I Facilitator. She has worked at Pelzer with the faculty and students during this tenure.

Dr. Wayne Fowler, superintendent, said, “Dr. Williams has always been a valuable asset to the community and schools that she has served.  Her focus has always been on what is best for students.  We are fortunate to have her in this new leadership role in Anderson One.”

Dr. Williams received her doctoral and undergraduate degree from Clemson University. She serves as Clemson University Community Fellows with Strong Communities, and is very involved in community support and volunteerism. Her previous work experience includes teacher, principal/director of a school, and director of a multimillion dollar grant program.  In addition, she has lead multi-disciplinary teams in K-12 education, higher education and in the health field. She has taught at the college level and middle school and has served in many capacities at institutional organizations.

Dr. Williams is married to Philip Williams and has two daughters. She is an active member of Calvary Baptist Church and very involved in the community of Williamston.

She is head basketball coach for Palmetto High girls’ team and had led them to several successful seasons.

Jane Harrison, Director of Elementary Education, said, “Dr. Williams is a visionary leader and will be a good fit for Pelzer Elementary School. She will be focused on making a smooth transition for faculty and students. She is about accentuating the positive and promoting success for all.”

Dr. Williams stated, “I truly believe that seeing others reach their potential and being a part of their success is the most rewarding role to play at home, professionally and in the community.”

Historic cannon ready for action

If you live in the Cheddar-Whitefield Community and thought you heard an explosion on Sunday, or maybe an earthquake, a sonic boom or thunder. It was none of these. It was cannon fire.

No, Southern Anderson County wasn’t invading Northern Anderson County, it was a test firing of Williamston’s historic cannon.

The Civil War era cannon has been restored to former glory and was fired for the first time in years, confirming that it is ready for display and even the battle field.

Following a controversial return of the cannon in a defaced condition in 2006, town officials began considering several options for restoration, care and display of the historic piece.

Three written proposals were reviewed by the town. After months of negotiations, care and restoration of the brass cannon was turned over to members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Camp #43.

The Camp’s expertise in handling, transporting, and firing similar cannons, as well as their willingness to invest in the project, were the deciding factors, according to town officials.

Under the leadership of Allen Ashley, the cannon, which has been described as one of a kind, was cleaned up and inspected for damage.

David West and Dean Stephens helped Ashley with cleanup of the defaced cannon.

In addition to being spray painted, officials noticed duirng an inspection that there was an obstruction of some sort inside the cannon.

What they found was that someone had fashioned a makeshift shell, including a fuse, which was glued into the depths of the cannon barrel.

A worming tool was screwed  into the wooden faux shell to remove it.

Williamston Judge James M. Cox said town officials have no idea who put the fabricated shell into the rifled cannon or when it was done, but it did cause some concern to those who were working to restore it.

After the obstruction was removed, everyone involved wanted to know if the historic cannon was in working order. The only way to confirm that, to fire it.

Ashley and Cox asked members of the Hart’s Battery to conduct a test firing, 

So the cannon was loaded onto a carriage loaned from the Hart’s Battery, then onto a trailer, to be transported to Cox’s rural home in the Cheddar Community Sunday. Two Williamston Police officers also escorted the cannon to the site.

Williamston Mayor Phillilp Clardy was present as were several neighbors who were warned in advance that the cannon was to be test fired that afternoon.

Following a protocol for loading and firing, the four members of Hart’s Battery, dressed in period attire, packed gunpowder and wadding into the barrel. A fuse was lit and after a few seconds, BOOM! Cannon fire echoed through the quiet country side. A cloud of gray smoke followed and drifted across a plowed field where the firing took place.

Members of Hart’s Battery participating in the firing were Jimmy Dyches, Chip Dyches, Lee Littlejohn, John Reeves and Captain Dan Patterson.

The cannon features one of a kind rifling which provides for more distance, according to Patterson.

The “projectile” that is fired is like a bullet as opposed to a round ball and the rifling provides for more accuracy, Patterson said.

Different type shells could have been fired from the cannon including the bullet type, a shell with a fuse that after being fired from the cannon then explodes in the air or on the ground, sending metal everywhere, or a solid shell for buildings and even grape shot which Patterson said was used against calvary.

Members of Hart’s Battery participate in about two reenactments a month. They are looking forward to carrying one of Williamston’s prized possessions with them on future outings.

In addition to the Williamston cannon, Hart’s Battery has three other artillery pieces including a 10 lb. parrot rifle, a 3 inch ordinance rifle and a 12 lb. mountain howitzer.

The first opportunity for display for the historic cannon will be next Saturday at the SC State House grounds in Columbia, for Confederate Memorial Day.

It will be one of four cannons on display at the event and will be fired at approximately 11 a.m., Patterson said.

It will also see its “first battle” when it is taken to Gettysburg Pennsylvannia for the 145th anniversary reenactment of the famous Battle of Gettysburg July 4-6.

Ashley said his group is also planning to take the cannon to Rome Georgia for a homecoming in the future. The cannon was manufactured in Rome Georgia by Noble Brothers and Company.

Mayor Clardy said that if anything positive came from the situation with the missing cannon and its return in the condition it was, it is that town officials are even more aware of the historic value of the cannon.

“We’ve come to a renewed realization of what we’ve got.”

He said the town and SCV are in partnership to be the custodians of the historic war piece and will utilize it the best way possible. According to Clardy this includes placing it on display and making it available for educational purposes during special events and reenactments.

Cannon was sabotaged

The recent effort to render the Town of Williamston’s Civil War cannon unusable was an act of sabotage, according to Judge Jimmy Cox, who discovered that the cannon had been plugged, while conducting a routine safety check on the weapon.

The brass three inch rifled cannon, which was manufactured in Rome Georgia in the closing days of the Civil War, was out of the Town’s possession for a considerable length of time. Once it was recovered, the Town Council voted to seek the expertise and assistance of a camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as well as several reenactors who are familiar with Southern artillery.

Judge Cox, himself both a Civil War buff and a weapons collector and expert, was watching one day as some of the SCV members were working around the gun. “Having been around weapons all my life, I couldn’t help wondering if the cannon had been checked and declared safe. I mentioned that to these fellows and they said the gun must be empty because it had been fired not too long ago. I took a wooden stake and ran it down the tube of the gun and it didn’t go as far as it should have,” said Cox.

A further inspection revealed what looked like a fuse attached to the front of an artillery projectile. Civil War shells had fuses inserted so that the time and distance between firing and the shell exploding could be adjusted.

In order to determine exactly what was in the cannon, an appointment was made with a machine shop several counties away to X-ray the cannon. But just days before that was to happen, several members of Hart’s Brigade, SCV members and re-enactors who have considerable experience with such weapons, according to Cox, came to inspect the gun.

“They brought a cannon worm to see if they could extract the shell, if indeed that was what it was,” said Cox. “Their efforts knocked the fuse off  the front of the shell, and they retrieved it. It was either a genuine Civil War era fuse or a very good replica.It contained enough black powder to blow a finger or two off if you were careless, but there was no real charge behind the projectile.”

The projectile, when it was finally removed from the gun, turned out to be a heart pine wooden block, which had been turned on a lathe and painted black to resemble an actual projectile.

Cox said it was the fact that the back of the projectile, the portion that would be furthest into the gun, had been slathered with silicone glue so that it would adhere to the bottom of the cannon tube.

“That was supposed to stay in there, and not be taken out. It was meant to render the gun useless, which would have also rendered it virtually worthless as well,” said Cox. “It was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the gun and we need to find out who did it.”

Cox said after the gun was cleared it was taken out to his farm outside of town and fired twice. “It sounded just splendid,” he said.

Board names Powdersville High; approves construction timelines

It’s official. The new high school in Anderson District One will be called Powdersville High School.

Acting on a recommendation by Superintendent Dr. Wayne Fowler, the Anderson School District One Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to the new name.

Dr. Fowler said he had to have a name for the school to have an address assigned to the construction site.

The board also gave approval to a timeline presented by Dr. Fowler for the District’s building program which was given the green light by the public in a referendum in March.

The board unanimously approved a resolution declaring the certified results of the referendum which will be given to the bonding attorneys, allowing them to move forward with the issuance of bonds for the project. The referendum passed with 2641 in favor and 980 oppposed.

According to Dr. Fowler, the timeline presented indicates the design phase on the new high school will begin in April and take approximately 12 months. Once approved, the bid process will take about three months. Construction is expected to begin in July of 2009 and take approximately 23 months, finishing the school in time for opening  in the fall of the 2011 school year.

Dr. Fowler said the new Powdersville High School should be open in three years. “We need that school open,” he said.

Dr. Fowler said the timeline is aggressive but the architectural firms are committed to the design phase timelines presented.

The timeline schedule includes projected construction and completion dates for each of the eleven school projects approved in the referendum.

Dr. Fowler said that he and his staff will initially focus on six projects over the next year.  Receiving priority will be the new high school, Wren and Palmetto High athletic improvements and additions to Palmetto High.

Classroom additions and renovations at Wren Middle, Palmetto Middle and Concrete Primary will also be given priority.

Next will be Spearman Primary, Palmetto Elementary, Powdersville Middle, Wren Elementary and Cedar Grove Elementary.

Security issues will be addressed at Hunt Meadows, Pelzer Elementary, Powdersville Elementary and West Pelzer Elementary under one bid and should be underway soon.

Dr. Fowler said that the timeline is based on a three year cycle to get all the projects done.

“That’s moving on,” he said the construction people told him.

He said the building project will create extra work for the District Finance Director and purchasing agent but they all agreed they thought they could handle the timeline.

Board members also approved numerous personnel recommendations.

Community invited to pray in park

The community is invited to observe the National Day of Prayer in Mineral Spring Park on May 1. The amphitheater in the park will be available throughout the day, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., for people who want to come to pray, said Ken McInnis, spokesman for the Williamston Prayer Group which is organizing the local observance.

A more formal prayer time has been planned for 12 noon in the amphitheater with several area ministers leading prayers.  Participating Ministers include Dr. Norman Pearson of New Prospect Baptist Church, Rev. Kempie Shepard of Grace United Methodist Church, Rev. Mark Roberts of Calvary Baptist Church, and Rev. Tony Edwards of Pelzer Church of God.

Williamston Prayer Group participants and members of local churches will be at the amphitheater all day in case anyone who comes to pray would like to have someone pray with them or have special concerns they want to talk about, McInnis said. Anyone in the community who is interested is invited to be a part of the prayer time, he said.

The National Day of Prayer, created by the US Congress in 1952, is an annual observance held on the first Thursday of May, inviting people of all faiths to pray for the nation. The National Day of Prayer Task Force calls on the Christian community to intercede for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: government, military, media, business, education, church and family.

The Williamston Prayer Group is a non-denominational, informal gathering of area men who assemble weekly to pray for needs in the community. Meetings are held every Tuesday at 8 a.m. at B & R Restaurant. Area men who are interested are welcome to join the group, McInnis said. For more information, call 847-5225.

Celebrate improved Brookdale Park

Unity in the Community, a celebration of the restoration of the Brookdale Community Park will be held at the park on May 3 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be on site health screenings. The book mobile will also be there as well as the fire department. There will be food as well as music, mime dancing, softball, basketball and face painting. The community is invited to come out and enjoy this celebration sponsored by Bethel United Methodist Church, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, New Prospect Baptist Church, Valley Brook Outreach Baptist Church and The City of Williamston. For more info call Minister Michael Bond at 864-275-3338 or Minister Reginald Sherman at 864-430-0113.

Area celebrates Earth Day in park

Williamston held its first Earth Day event in Williamston’s Mineral Spring Park Saturday. Members of Grace United Methodist Church helped organize the event.

“We thought the turnout was good for our first try. The weather was great -- thank goodness the weathermen were wrong,” said spokesperson, Phil Hughes.

Hughes said the Girl Scouts gave out more than 200 seedlings during the event and organizers estimated that more than 200 people attended the event.

Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy, Councilmen Carthel Crout, Marion Middleton, Jr. and others joined to plant a Summer Red Maple tree in the park. A group of children planted a second Red Maple.

Children participated in a number of related activties during the day.

Co-organizer Marc Edlein said the goal of the event was the same as the Global Earth Day event, to inform the community about sustainable actions.

He pointed out that the planting of the two trees is symbolic of the purpose of the event. “We don’t have the environment issues that bigger cities have but we want to make sure that we keep it that way and preserve the beauty of Williamston, Anderson County, and the Upstate, for future generations,” he said.

The event was a big success for kids too. Throughout the day, the Kids’ Zone activities were busy with children making paper pots for the free pine seedlings; face painting; coloring paper grocery bags; and earth volleyball.

Several organizations had table top displays. A representative of The Greenville Zoo was present and explained that this is the year of the Frog. According to the zoo spokesperson, reptiles are like canaries in the coal mine. When an environment is threatened, the reptiles are the first to show signs that something is not right. Mutations and deformities often result.

“There were also some interesting comments posted on the feedback board,” Edlein said, “Which gave us another way to gauge the event.”

County budget work session focuses on animal shelter and other projects

By Stan Welch

 Anderson County administrator Joey Preston put forth an ambitious capital improvements program at last week’s budget workshop with the County Council.

At the top of the list was a proposal for a 20,000 square foot animal shelter which would also incorporate a low cost spay and neuter clinic intended to reduce the number of strays in Anderson County.

The existing animal shelter is more than thirty years old and is visibly deteriorating, said Michelle Dodd, the shelter director, who appeared to make her plea to the council for the proposed $3.2 million facility. The shelter would include a low cost spay and neuter clinic, operated by a not for profit organization. Preston said the cost estimate for the project was probably low.

Greg Smith , director of the County’s Environmental Services, told the Council that the shelter received some 13,000 animals last year and euthanized 8,000 of them. Dr. Mack Burriss, who serves the shelter as a veterinarian, said that the shelter currently does 2500 spay or neutering operations a year. “We should be doing two to three times that many. If we were, we would gradually reduce the number of euthanizations by seventy per cent in Anderson County.”

Councilwoman Gracie Floyd was in full support of the entire request. “We don’t need to nickel and dime this thing. We need to do it right.”

Councilwoman Cindy Wilson questioned whether the proposed facility could be built on the existing site, which sits on seven and a half acres. Preston said ten to twelve acres would probably be needed. Wilson suggested placing the facility on some of the three hundred acres at the Civic Center site. Preston responded by saying that the County has a master plan for that site and the shelter might not fit that plan.

One possible solution to the problem was provided by Michael Glenn, a major supporter of the shelter, who offered to donate the land needed at a site on Highway 28. Mr. Glenn is not the attorney by the same name.

Another project proposed was the renovation of a section of the McCants’ School, for use by the special populations department, which currently uses a small home converted to a meeting and administration facility. The project, which would increase the space available to the department, which oversees the activities of 1100 special needs athletes in Anderson County, from 1700 square feet to 9400 square feet. The cost estimate for the renovation which would include some asbestos abatement is $1.5 million.

Preston also announced that work would begin on the old Kroger building this week, with an occupancy date of next summer. “We call it the courthouse annex now, not the old Kroger building,” said Preston.

Also on the list was a $1.2 million renovation to the Ronald P. Townsend office building on Main Street. The building is currently vacant and needs renovation to meet the standards for locating the summary court, registration and elections, the Legislative delegation and the Veterans’ Affairs offices there.

Councilwoman Floyd announced that the proposed budget would include funding to renovate the pavilion at Broadway Lake. Preston pointed out that Park Police Chief Bill Striewing currently lives in a (county owned) home at the lake and maintains the spillway and dam.

The existing Broadway Lake Community Center would be replaced with a 2600 square foot building, with a proposed cost of $915,000, an amount Councilwoman Wilson found exorbitant. “A house that size, and a very nice house indeed, could be built for half that amount,” said Wilson. “We don’t want to be nickel and dimeing this thing,” said Ms. Floyd.

Several parks are also on the list, with Parker Bowie Park slated for $500,000 to purchase 32 acres and establish the park. Dolly Cooper Park in Powdersville is slated for $500,000 to begin building ball fields and soccer fields. The Clyde D. Spearman Recycling Center at that location will open on May 29th. (See related story elsewhere in this issue.) The Warner Road Park is slated for $750,000 in improvements.

A long list of convenience centers is also slated for renovation or removal. On that list, with the amounts projected to renovate or replace the existing facilities are  the Harris Bridge Road Center,$775,000; Slabtown Center,$775,000; Friendship Center, $550,000; Craytonville Center,$550,000; Agnew Road Center, $550,000.

Preston responded to a question by Councilman Waldrep by assuring him that the revenues generated by last year’s increase in solid waste fees would pay for the proposed improvements.

Councilwoman Wilson, pointing out that the entire workshop had been dedicated to the list of capital projects, and no real discussion of the proposed budget, asked that at least one more workshop be held prior to the May 6 first reading of the budget ordinance.

She and councilman Waldrep both questioned the sizable difference in the estimated value of the mil in the upcoming budget. Waldrep said that county auditor Jacky Hunter was estimating that value at approximately $526,000 while county financial analyst Gina Humphries was estimating it at $565,000. “Do you ever talk with each other about that?” he asked Humphries.

She responded by saying that their jobs were basically different. “The auditor has the luxury of setting the value of the mil in the fall, when things have settled out. I have to do it with reassessment in play and other variables still unknown. So it’s really not the same thing.”

Council Chairman Michael G. Thompson, after conferring with Preston, told the Council members to make individual appointments with county staffers to get any questions they had answered prior to the first reading.

Cooper Park recycling center to open soon

By Stan Welch

The D. Clyde Spearman Recycling Center at the Dolly Cooper Park site in Powdersville is scheduled for a grand opening on May 29th.

The ribbon cutting was announced last week at a budget workshop of the County Council.

The recycling center, part of the proposed Dolly Cooper Park site on the banks of the Saluda River, has been completed for several months. So far, it is the only part of the overall project to be constructed, except for the entryway to the property.

County administrator Joey Preston said that is about to change, however. “We are ready to start building ball fields so that the kids in Powdersville will have a place to play. The youth association in Wren will help us raise funds once they see that we are doing something on the site. There are others who will help also. They just want to see us get started,” said Preston.

The park site, purchased two years ago in a controversial move, includes a half mile of Saluda River frontage. The County hopes to incorporate the existing wetlands on the site into the storm water runoff plan. The proposal for the park includes terraced ball fields and soccer fields, as well as an observation deck, canoeing and kayaking facilities and walking trails.

Preston requested $500,000 for the next phase of the project, with the money to be funded as part of a $9 million general obligation bond he is seeking to fund an ambitious capital improvement agenda. (See related story elsewhere in this issue).

Compensation increases indicate Preston job performance positive

By Stan Welch

Much has been made in recent weeks about the job evaluation process in Anderson County, as it applies to the two employees actually hired and supervised by the County Council.

Those two employees are the Clerk to Council and the County Administrator, or Linda Edelmann and Joey Preston, respectively. 

Under Home Rule, those are the only two employees directly controlled by County Council. The remainder of the county’s approximately 1000 employees come under the supervision of the county administrator and his various division and department heads.

Recently published reports indicate that the supposedly annual job evaluations of county administrator Joey Preston which Council is required to conduct have instead been conducted on a more casual basis. Several Council members said that they didn’t see any need for such evaluations since they were generally pleased with Preston’s performance.

In fact, current Council Chairman Michael G. Thompson has gone so far as to threaten a Council member who releases an unfavorable evaluation of Preston with legal action and abandonment to her individual fate.

In a letter sent recently to Councilwoman Cindy Wilson, a persistent critic of Preston, recently, Thompson warned Wilson of dire consequences should she release her individual evaluations of Preston to the media. “Until a court declares personnel evaluations of public employees or public officials are public information, which they have not yet done, the County is not going to release this information as we could be sued for invasion of privacy.”

The County’s apparent position concerning the release of the evaluations would seem to be contrary to opinions issued by the state Attorney General, in which he says such information is available to the public.

Preston released several of his evaluations to a local newspaper after that newspaper had filed a Freedom of Information act request. Those evaluations, however, were the averaged and blended results of the various Council members’ individual ratings.

Thompson’s warning referred to Wilson’s individual rating of Preston’s performance and warned that if such information was released to “slander or embarrass” an employee, the County could be exposed to legal action. He went on to tell Wilson that in the event of a lawsuit, Council would vote to remove itself from the suit and leave her to her own devices. No reference to a formal decision by the Council was made in the letter, and minutes of recent meetings reflect no such vote, or discussion.

While questions may persist concerning the public nature of Preston’s job evaluations, there is no doubt that the information included in the statements of economic interest on file with the State Ethics Commission is public. Based on those records, Preston’s job performance, if not pleasing to everyone on the Council, has certainly been adequate to produce healthy pay increases.

Those forms, currently on file with the Anderson County Clerk of Court’s office, show that Preston has received approximately $25,000 in raises over the last two years, bringing his 2007 salary and compensation to more than $165,000. The base salary in 2007 was $149,676.00.

That figure does not specifically reflect contributions to retirement accounts; nor does it reflect the value of the county provided transportation that Preston receives. The figures do refer to insurance and deferred compensation in the amount of $16,359 for 2007.

On his 2005 statement, those figures are broken down into two categories, although the total is almost the same. In 2005, however, Preston listed his base salary as $125,704.43, while in 2006, that amount jumped to $147,755.23, an increase of approximately $22,000. In 2006, his combined insurance and deferred compensation totaled almost $17,000.

The increase between 2005 and 2006 is the second largest single jump in Preston’s pay since 2002, the farthest back the records go. Between 2002 and 2003, Preston’s base salary jumped from a little over $111,000 to  more than $135,000 in 2003. Oddly, that base salary dipped to $130,879 the following year, although his compensation for insurance and reimbursement increased slightly.

Preston’s economic interest forms reflect vehicle compensation in the amount of between $700 and $800 each year, a figure that would seem to be in conflict with the fact that he drives a county provided Yukon Denali as part of his contract.

The forms on file with the Clerk of Court consistently reflect no real estate, business or regulated business associations.

Seems to Me . . . Shared responsibility (in an election year)

By Stan Welch

 I wrote a couple of weeks or so ago about the value of consistency in the way in which the County conducts its business. As a clear example of the influence which this column has on those in power, the Council and its over-reaching Chairman, Michael Thompson, immediately made another remarkable show of inconsistency.

I had cited the discrepancy between the County and its attorney insisting that opinions issued by the state Attorney General’s office concerning the issue of a County Council employing an independent auditor under its direct control were proper and should be followed, while ignoring opinions issued by that same office supporting Councilwoman Cindy Wilson’s demands for access to public records as if they were somehow guidelines or suggestions might be just a bit self-serving and inconsistent.

Undaunted, Chairman Michael Thompson recently issued a letter to Ms. Wilson warning her in strong terms that she was not to release her own evaluations of county administrator Preston’s performance, and further warning her that she might be sued if she did. He added that if she were sued she would be on her own, with the rest of Council abandoning her to her fate at the hands of Preston’s, or is it the County’s, attorney.

There is much about this letter that is remarkable. Perhaps the first thing that strikes one is the gall it took for Mr. Thompson to write it. Or should I say sign it? It seems to me that Thompson had about as much to do with the authorship of this letter as he did with the Declaration of Independence.

County ordinances clearly define the authority of the Council chairman as being twofold. One, he is supposed to conduct the meetings of the Council. Secondly, he is, along with the administrator, expected and authorized, to set the agenda for those meetings. Other than that, it is clearly stated in the ordinances that he has no other power beyond that of each individual member of the Council.

Despite this, or perhaps because it is not an opinion issued by the Attorney General, Thompson, with obvious encouragement by the county administrator and the county attorney, has far overreached his authority. He in fact comes dangerously close to practicing law without a license in this most recent missive from on high.

To threaten an elected official, a member of the very Council which he chairs, with legal action seems to me to be the height of hubris. I would like to think that, anyway, but I’ll bet you that the bar for hubris will be raised several times between now and the June primary.

But Thompson goes even further. He says that if Wilson releases her individual evaluation for the purpose of slandering or embarrassing Mr. Preston, she would place the county at risk of a lawsuit. Now, that may be true; it may not. I find the opinions issued by the county attorney to be very flexible in many regards.

Lord knows Mr. Preston has shown little reluctance to bite the hand that feeds him so handsomely, especially if there might be a political advantage to be gained.

Slander is a legal matter, and as such, can be committed against a particular person. But it seems to me that if Mr. Preston hasn’t embarrassed Mr. Preston by now, Ms. Wilson is unlikely to.

The pre-emptive nature of this strike against Ms. Wilson is particularly interesting. She has been the target of actions by the majority of Council several times for behavior they, or Mr. Preston, disapproved of. But now she is being attacked for something she might do, not something she has done. Surely, even in Anderson County the horse goes before the cart? Or is the jackass the source of propulsion for carts in this county?

But back to the question of inconsistency. The current Attorney General has issued an opinion that such personnel evaluations are in fact public information. He has gone so far as to call the idea that such information is protected from public view a “myth”. Yet, in its infinite inconsistency, and its inexhaustible ability to serve its own purposes instead of the truth, Council chooses to await a court decision on the matter.

Or do they? One wonders when the vote to authorize Thompson to send this letter to Ms. Wilson was taken. Is that a matter of public information?

Without such a vote, Thompson has no authority to attempt to intimidate and browbeat a member of the Council as he has tried to do in this case. With such a vote, all those in the affirmative can share the blame for such coercive and inappropriate action.

Seems to me that’s only fair in an election year.

 

 

 

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