News Archive

(2507) Week of June 20, 2007

Authorities looking for information on unsolved homicide
Council postpones approval of recycled budget
Williamston to accept Forest Hills sewer
Williamston crime report
Town to implement hospitality tax July 1
Piedmont names new fire chief
Piedmont suspends free use of gym after complaints
Retirement supper held for fire chiefPiedmont District
Walgreens Distribution Center breaking new ground in hiring
Mayors consider road fee proposal
County taxes to increase 7.9 mils
Regional Water provider switches to safer disinfectant
Officials not saying if local guard units will be closing

Seems to Me . . . Stalking case delays justice

Catergate results: no charges filed in stalking, harassment cases

 

Authorities looking for information on unsolved homicide

Williamston Police Chief David Baker said Wednesday that they are asking anyone with information about an unidentified person who was last seen with William “Ricky” Loskoski, to contact his department or Anderson Crime Stoppers.

A sketch that was made of a man shortly after Loskoski’s murder in 2003 is being released in an effort to generate information, Chief Baker said.

The man has four distinct facial features, according to Baker.

The initial report which led to the sketch described the man as having short hair in the front and longer in the back. He has bags under his eyes. Eyes are described as gray or blue and he has “a very distinct nose.”

The sketch being released now was made shortly after the murder in August of 2003.

Recent tips that relate to an individual who appears to be identical to the man in the sketch have led authorities to go to the public in hopes of getting more information or identifying the man in the sketch.

Loskoski was found in his home at 120 Davis Street in Williamston on August 6, 2003. He was last seen on August 4, 2003 at approximately 5:30 p.m.

Reports at the time stated Loskoski was struck at least four times on the head with a blunt instrument and his throat was lacerated

Two recent tips from persons describing what appears to be the same individual have led authorities to release the sketch and ask for information anyone may have as to the identity of the individual. Both of the tipsters said the sketch looked identical to the person they saw.

Chief Baker said the man in the sketch was seen by the original witness who provided details for the sketch on the day of the murder.

“We don’t know who he is,” Chief Baker said.  “He is potentially the last fellow with Loskoski and we need to talk to him.”

Baker said the Department has received several tips over the years since the murder, but photos of persons of interest were not identified as the man in the sketch.

“The family needs closure,” Chief Baker said. “Somebody needs to be held accountable for it.”

Anyone with information that may be related to the case is asked to contact the Williamston Police Department at 864-847-7425, the WPD annonymous tip line at 864-847-7025 or Anderson Crime Stoppers at 864-231-STOP (7867)

Council declines approval of recycled budget

Williamston Town Council put off first reading of the 2008-2009 budget Monday after two Councilmembers expressed concerns that the budget being presented by Mayor Phillip Clardy is exactly the same budget that was approved for 2007.

Councilmen Carthel Crout and Marion Middleton, Jr. both had problems with the budget saying it contained line items from 2007 that should be taken out and failed to include new items expected for 2008.

According to Crout, the proposed budget had a one time expenditure for software which was purchased in 2007 and will not be needed in the new budget and it fails to reflect the new hospitality fee being implemented July 1.

Clardy stated that the draft budget he presented was based on audit figures from the last half of 2006 and will need adjustments. 

He said he planned to present two draft budgets to council, one based on the current millage of 106 mills  and another based on an increase of 4.25 mills. Clardy said that the revised figures will also include changes in the Fort Hill gas franchise fee.

Clardy has stated that he waiting on the finalized audit to plug in the numbers for the revised budget and urged council to approve the budget as is until the audit figures are available.

The Town’s new book keeper and auditors are currently working on the figures, he said. “The accounting staff is working with our staff,” Clardy said.

Crout responded, “the audit has nothing to do with this budget. It has so many holes in it. If we approve it we will be right back here we were a year and a half ago.”

Crout said there have been no budget meetings and council will have to hold one every day to get a budget ready.

The town is in the process of changing the operations from a calendar year to a fiscal year starting July 1.

Councilman Middleton also expressed concerns with the budget figures being presented, pointing out that it contained the $35,000 appropriation for software which had not been removed from the 2007 budget.

“This is a copy of an old budget,” Middleton said. “There had been no work done on it.”

Middleton also expressed concerns that the budget showed no estimates on what will come in or go out for the hospitality tax.

“We have a lot of work to do on this budget,” Middleton said.

Crout said that he also wants to cut the sanitation fee and purchase a packer for the town. He said that the new budget fails to show any increase in health insurance costs which are estimated at 14 percent.

The town is also considering reducing the deductible on employee health insurance, from $1000 back to $500, as it was before adjustments were made to bring the town back to financial stablility last year.

The change will increase the town’s insurance premiums tremendously, according to Clerk Michelle Starnes. 

Crout also said the town needs to hire an administrator. “Right now we have four councilmen doing the job of the mayor.”

Clardy said that when the council decides on policy and equipment he can reflect it in the budget. “Each item on your list is a separate budget,” he said.

“The audit is the most accurate indicator of expenditures. Those numbers are important to forecast,” Clardy said.

Middleton said that using the audit figures will be basing the budget on six month old figures.

“We can’t do anything until we get numbers,” Middleton said. “We do not know anything. We are flying blind.”

Middleton also said that the town needs to look at raises for employees. Some employees have not had raises in several years, he said.

Clardy maintained that the budget is a working, changing document and said there has been a lot of work “behind the scenes” in getting the audit and budget ready.

After additional discussion, Council decided to hold a budget work session at 2 p.m. on Monday, June 28.

Council will meet with town employees at 1 p.m. the same day to discuss changing payroll from weekly to bi-weekly.

Williamston to accept Forest Hills sewer

During a special meeting Monday, Williamston Town Council approved first reading on an ordinance to allow acceptance of waste water from the Forest Hills subdivision.

Contract details with Anderson County are still being finalized and there was some discussion about whether the capacity will be allotted from the Anderson County capacity reserved in Williamston’s treatment plant.

Councilman Carthel Crout questioned why the county would not authorize capacity.

Goldie and Associates consultant Sonya Harrison reponded that the agreement with the County had not yet been signed.

“If the county capacity is not available they can come to the town,” Harrison said.

Harrison stated that the town has a verbal agreement from the County, but if another subdivision outside wants to tie in it might increase the costs, she said.

The agreement covers who is responsible for what including billing of customers, monitoring flow,  and whether the town will invoice Anderson County or the entity that ties in.

According to Harrison the agreement is in the hands of the County.

Town Attorney Richard Thompson said that he had spoken with County Attorney Tom Martin on the matter recently. He stated a rough draft had been sent to him but it had not been reviewed. He said he would have something by the next council meeting.

Mayor Phillip Clardy presented a budget for first reading approval, but Council members Crout and Middleton said they needed additional information and better figures before they would approve a budget. (See separate story)

After considerable discussion on the budget, Council agreed to hold a budget worksession meeting on Monday, June 25 at 2 p.m.

There was discussion  on going to a biweekly payroll. The topic will be discussed in a meeting with town employees at 1 p.m. on June 25, prior to the budget meeting.

The issue of what to do with commemorative brick from the old city hall was tabled.

Council unanimously approved final reading on an ordinance banning through truck/tractor traffic on Gray Drive with exceptions for persons residing on the street, normal course of business such as deliveries, construction equipment, moving vans or law enforcement.

Council unanimously approved a request from the organizers of the upcoming Freedom Celebration to allow two town employees and equipment to be available Saturday June 30 to pick up trash during the day long festival. The GWBA and the Spring Water Committee are organizing the event for the town.

Council also decided to proceed with unearthing a time capsule located at the old city hall property and placing it at the Municipal Center. The ceremony will be held in conjunction with the Freedom Celebration on June 30.

The sesquicentennial time capsule will be placed at the Municipal Center probably during the Spring Water Festival, Clardy said.

Council approved a request by Emily McCall to allow use of the Municipal Center gym for a benefit for her sick granddaughter. McCall said her granddaughter has a rare artery disease that affects 1 in 10 million white women and her family is facing extensive medical bills, after insurance.

Council also suspended the $350 fee after Councilman Middleton made a motion to allow use of the facility at no charge.

Jan Dawkins asked why there had been no report on the 2005 audit in The Journal, and responded to Mayor Clardy’s quote in the Journal stating he was acting “In the best interest of the citizens.”

Dawkins asked if he was acting in the best interest of citizens when the town accumulated debt to the IRS, State Retirement and penalties, town employees were taken to the Peddler when the town had a $1.7 million deficit, and the town credit card was being used for “a multitude of things.”

Dawkins said that he was also operating a business with no business license.

She thanked council for stopping the spending. “Keep those hands tied so we don’t wind up in the same situation,” she said.

Williamston Police officers investigated the following incidents recently:

Williamston crime report

June 10 – Sgt. Z.E. Gregory and Cpl. D.W. Bryant responded to the Middleton Blvd. apartments, following a report of two black females and a black male arguing in the parking lot. Upon arrival, officers found five people were involved in the altercation. After sorting out the he said/she said and the threats, the officers made no arrests.

June 11 – Sgt. Z.E. Gregory and Ptl. J. Digirolamo responded to 105 Green Street on a possible domestic dispute. While at the scene they discovered that Kimberley Yvonne Cape, 32, WF, 5-1", 140 pounds, blonde with blue eyes, had an active warrant out in Greenville County. She was taken into custody and held until Greenville County picked her up.

June 13 – Ptl. M.D. Creamer responded to 111 Bigby Street, where Yvette Mosley reported that someone had broken the back window out of her 1990 Lexus. A chunk of concrete used was found in the back seat. Damage was estimated at $300.

June 13 – Sgt. Z.E. Gregory responded to 13 Market St. where he assisted a bail bonds agent in placing a bail jumper in custody. The person placed in custody was Denise Grisson, 47, BF, 5’7", 198 pounds.

June 14 – Sgt. Z.E. Gregory was dispatched to the Burger King restaurant in response to a call of disorderly conduct. Upon arrival, he found a car parked at an angle across two parking spaces in the rear of the building. He approached the subject, Paul Michael Davis, WM, 25, 5’10", 170 pounds, of Williamston, who was alone in the car. He administered field sobriety tests and subsequently arrested Davis for public disorderly conduct.

June 15 – Ptl. M.D. Creamer observed a vehicle while on patrol. The vehicle’s driver was repeatedly blowing the car horn. Creamer stopped him and subsequently discovered two open liquor bottles and a bag containing 14 grams of marijuana. Tucker Porter, 22, WM, 6’3", 220 pounds, brown hair with blue eyes was arrested and charged with the listed offenses. He was transported to ACDC.

June 16 – M.D. Creamer and J. Digirolamo responded to the scene of a two car accident on Gossett St. A silver 2001 Honda, driven by Ernesto Ortiz, Hispanic male, 26, 5’5",130 pounds, black hair, brown eyes had hit a parked car owned by John Elrod. Ortiz suffered a bloody nose but refused treatment. He was arrested for public disorderly conduct, no drivers license and driving too fast for conditions.

June 16 – Ptl. A. Digirolamo received a report of malicious damage to property from Brian Williams. Williams stated that someone had beaten in the hood, rear and passenger side of his 1995 Chevy Blazer. Damage was estimated at $1200.

June 16 – Capt. K.P. Evatt was dispatched to 114 West 3rd St. where Kathie Eddleman reported that Sharon Miller, WF, 23, 5’8", 140 pounds, blond hair/blue eyes, had struck her in the face when she told Miller to quit yelling at her child. Miller was found two blocks away and was placed under arrest and transported to the WPD. She was also placed on trespass notice.

Town to implement hospitality tax July 1

By Stan Welch

Williamston’s newly implemented hospitality tax seems to have gained general acceptance by the businesses that will have to collect it. A recent meeting, held to allow the affected business people to ask questions about the tax and how it will be applied, drew only two people. Both were familiar with such taxes and seemed to support it.

The tax, enacted recently by the Town Council, adds two per cent to the sales tax on prepared foods served or sold within the town limits. According to an unofficial estimate, twenty businesses in the Town limits will be affected by the tax. Those businesses include convenience stores that sell hot dogs, coffee, fountain drinks and other prepared foods, as well as more traditional restaurants.

Councilman Otis Scott, who initiated and supported the tax, says that the Town will simply accumulate the funds for the first six months. “By then we will have enough to do something with, and we will have had time to consider the proper use for the money.”

The tax  is expected to generate approximately $80,000 for the town annually. Those revenues are required by the ordinance to be kept in a separate account.

Further restrictions are also placed on the uses of the funds. Among those uses are tourism related cultural, recreational or historic facilities, highways, roads streets and bridges used to provide access to tourist areas, advertisement and promotion related to tourism development, or water and sewer infrastructure to support tourism related demand.

The tax will be due to the Town on the following basis: monthly, when the amount is fifty dollars or higher; quarterly, when it is between twenty five and fifty dollars; and annually, when it is less than twenty five dollars.

Piedmont names new fire chief

During their regular monthly meeting Monday, Piedmont Public Service District Board of Commissioners discussed use of the gym and approved third and final reading on their $1.1 million budget for 2008. They also named a new fire chief for the District.

Commissioners unanimously approved a motion made by Commissioner Frankie Garrett stating that acting chief Tracy Wallace be named the full time chief and administrator for the District.

The vote was made official by standing applause from the commissioners. The motion included wording that he be appointed without any additional probationary period, allowing the months he has served to fulfill the qualification.

Wallace has been acting chief since Butch Nichols has been on medical leave earlier this year.

Nichols, who recently announced he was retiring, was honored with a retirement supper last Thursday. (See separate story this issue).

More than 200 people attended the event which Commissioner Marsha Rogers said was a “wonderful retirement party.”

Commissioner Al McAbee said that people from all over the state attended the event and thanked “anyone who helped put it together and made it a success.”

The board approved final reading on the 2007-2008 budget which remains about the same as last year, and is based on the same millage rate.

During committee reports, Commissioner Bob Stover reported that there had been a sewer problem at the Community Building. To correct the problem, a line was run from the building to the Western Carolina Sewer Authority line. The line is 8” pipe and will cost $3000 to $4,000, Stover said, and will connect at an existing tap. Stover said that there may be some additional cost because of old rock concrete from the mill found while running the new line.

After some discussion, Stover made a motion for the line to be fixed based on the advice of their sewer consultant, Atlantic Environmental Service.

There was some discussion about a new guardrail and pricing on new sewer construction and repairs.

In her recreation report, Rogers said there was very little power usage from lights now that the weather has changed.

Board Chairman C. E. “Ed”  Poore, Jr. reported that a bronze plaque recognizing the Bonnes Amies for placing recreation equipment located at the ball park had been stolen.

There was discussion about charging for use of the gym. Free time usage was cut out recently after problems arose involving persons using the facility.

Commissioners agreed that they couldn’t fairly charge some and not others.

It was suggested that a volunteer be available to supervise or that the District have someone there.

The discussion was accepted for information and will be discussed later. Stover will get additional information concerning costs of lighting and operation for the later discussion.

McAbee reported that the fire department had 56 total calls for May.

Calls for service included three structure fires; 1 grass fire; four vehicle fires; 10 auto accidents; 30 medical; one electrical; one gas; a mutual aid, 2 service and 3 sewer calls.

Stover said that having a pager made him realize what is involved in answering a call. “Having a pager has changed my outlook on fires,” he said.

Fire Chief Tracy Wallace reported that the number of grass fires was down, probably due to a recent arson arrest by Greenville County Sheriff’s office.

An individual was charged with five counts of arson involving fires in Piedmont, South Greenville and Gantt, Wallace said.

He also said the individual is out on $50,000 bond and that someone from the District may have to appear in court to address the situation.

Stover made a motion authorizing a resolution of appreciation for Piedmont’s firefighters. The resolution was unanimously approved. “I appreciate what they do,” Stover said.

Commissioner Frankie Garrett said that new flags are now flying at the headquarters, ball park and community building. A golf cart has also been  repaired.

Commissioner Marsha Rogers said that the grass needed to be cut and that the commissioners needed to make a decision on the issue.

There was some discussion about whether there should be a called meeting or emergency meeting to make such decisions when they arise.

(Editors note: Tecnically, an elected board can call an emergency meeting to make a decision on a pressing matter, but it is supposed to be used for real “emergency” situations. Commissioners are not allowed to make phone calls to get a conssensus on a decision in lieu of announcing a meeting and taking a vote on the decision in public. The practice, called polling is a violation of the State FOI laws.)

Wallace said they had some complaints about high grass and that he had contacted SCDOT about cutting the grass along the guardrails and sidewalks along Hwy. 86, Anderson Street.

Chairman Poore reported that May showed more expenditures than revenues because most of the revenue comes in prior to March. He said the district does have money in the bank to operate on.

Commissioners unanimously approved a request by Rogers to use the middle rooms of the Piedmont Community Building for a temporary Piedmont Museum.

Local historian Don Roper will provide items for the museum and the district will pursue grants to help provide funding. 

The board also approved a motion to name Rogers chairman  of a committee to be appointed for the project.

A motion made by Frankie Garrett to go into executive session died for lack of a second.

With a 4-1 vote, Garrett against, the meeting adjourned.

Piedmont suspends free use of gym after complaints

The Piedmont Community Building gym has been closed to free use while District Commissioners decide how to monitor its use.

During the May 21 meeting of the Piedmont Public Service District Board of Commissioners, Fire Chief Tracy Wallace reported that there were some problems at the community building during the free play hours of operation. The problems have included some fights, he said.

The initial idea was to allow a program for kids after school however the individuals showing up were much older, Wallace said.

There were complaints from businesses and citizens about the individuals loitering and using profanity in front of the community building.

There were also reports of individuals congregating in the upper parking lot at nights.

After some discussion, Commissioner Marsha Rogers made a motion to close free play at the building until July 4th at which time signs will be posted stating who can participate in free play and who has to rent the gym. There will also be no loitering allowed in the parking lots.

Commissioner Al McAbee seconded the motion and it was approved 4-0.  

Business owner Dan Rawls complained to the District that his dumpster was being used over the weekend by people holding a yard sale and from several parties held at the community building.

There was some discussion about how to prevent garbage generated from use of the community building winding up in a local business dumpster.

Council approved paying Rawls $34, the cost to empty the dumpster for one month.

McAbee reported that the District responded to 58 calls during the month of April.

Calls included 3 structure fires, 10 grass fires, 3 vehicle fires, 8 motor vehicle accidents, 23 medical calls, 1 electrical, 1 gas leak, two mutual aid calls, three service calls and four sewer calls.

McAbee reported that new pagers and portable radios are now in use.

The new equipment has helped response times from volunteers and off duty personnel, he said.

Rogers submitted a list of rentals for the ballpark. There was some discussion about use of the park.

Commissioner Bob Stover reported on a bill from Durham’s Pumps and Motors for repair done on a collapsed sewer line running under River Road near Saluda Drive. Chief Wallace reported that the sewer project on River Road had been compeded.

Commissioner Frankie Garrett updated the Board on repairs and improvements on several District properties.

Chairman Ed Poore reminded the commission that the majority of tax revenue comes in January through March each year and the remainder must get the District through the year.

Stover made a motion that all business of the community building and the ball park including reservations and payment be made through the administrators office at the fire department with a log kept of the key and a deposit required to get the key. Frankie Garrett seconded the motion.

Rogers questioned why the change was needed and stated there had been no problems with scheduling of the park and the motion was the result of Stover’s and Garrett’s vendetta against the ballpark and recreation since being elected. She said they were acting like jerks. After some discussion the matter was tabled.

McAbee, Stover and Wallace will serve on a committee to come up with recommendations.

Discussion on using a room at the community building for a historical display was tabled.

Second reading on the 2007-2008 budget was approved, increasing fuel expense by $1000.

Commissioners then went into executive session.

Retirement supper held for fire chief

By Stan Welch

More than a hundred citizens of the Piedmont area showed up last Thursday night to show their respects to a public servant who gave more than four decades of public service.

Jerry Lee “Butch” Nichols officially retired after forty three years of service as a fireman and the Chief of the Piedmont Fire Commission. When he first joined the department, J.P. Stevens, the town’s largest mill, owned and operated the fire department, which consisted of a 1948 fire truck. Back in those days, if a man worked in the shop at the mill, he was also a fireman.

In 1973, he became one of the first full time employees of the fire department, and in 1992, he became Chief.

Today, the department has two stations, four fire engines, a rescue truck, a truck for fighting grass fires, and two Chief’s cars. The budget has gone from sixty eight thousand dollars in 1963 to two million dollars today. There are fifteen paid firefighters and twenty one volunteers on staff.

Senator Billy O’Dell was present to honor Nichols, and presented him with a Confederate flag that flew over the Statehouse. “It’s public servants like Butch Nichols who really make the difference in communities all across this state. They improve the quality of life and the services to their communities and they ask for little or no recognition. But today is a day to recognize more than forty years of service, and I’m proud to do so.”

Nichols grew a little misty eyed when he spoke to this reporter about his plans. “I have enjoyed every minute of my time here. I’ll probably stop by once every week or two to check in with the guys, but the department is in good hands with Tracy Wallace. I’m going to go fishing on the lake a lot and just take it easy. I really appreciate this send off and thank everyone who came from the bottom of my heart.”

Nichols also received a plaque and a chromed fire fighter’s axe, as well as a number of personal gifts from those attending. 

Walgreens Distribution Center breaking new ground in hiring

State and local political figures were among hundreds of individuals attending a special open house of the new Walgreens Distribution Center located on 101 Alliance Prkwy, just off Highview Rd.., Williamston.

In addition to housing state of the art distribution technology, the facility is breaking new ground in hiring practices and in the process changing the perception of hiring people with disabilities.

Approximately 42 percent of the people employed at the facility have either a cognitive or physical disability, according to Angela Campbell, who works in Human Resources as the Career Outreach Coordinator. A Clemson graduate with a 4.0 grade average and skills to match, Campbell has cerebral palsy.

Walgreens officials say up front that hiring people with autism or some form of mental retardation, from a population where 95 percent are unemployed, is not a charity.

All employees are held to the same standards and the Anderson facility is expected to be at least 20 percent more efficient than the company’s previous distribution centers.

The facility has new logistics systems and technology that makes the work environment more efficient and more inclusive.

The center currently employs 275 people and plans to eventually hire as many as 800. Now they are shipping to 100 to 150 stores in NC, SC and Georgia.

At full capacity, the facility will ship approximately 80,000 cases daily to more than 700 Walgreens store across the southeast.

Walgreens Senior Vice President of Distribution and Logistics,  Randy Lewis, said that when the company began looking to build a new facility four years ago, they initially wanted to locate near Atlanta. 

They found that land was not available, so they began searching outside Atlanta and eventually, as Lewis said, they came to Anderson, “the last stop”, located on the I-85 corridor just across the state line.

Lewis said that the hospitality of the area was such that he could see people starting a life in Anderson. and soon decided that it was the right place for the facility which he envisioned.

In addition to proximity, there was a quality workforce available.

Lewis, whose son has autism, had the vision of hiring people with disabilities and two local stories had a big impact on the decision.

During the time they were searching for their facility location, the movie “Radio” came out. Soon afterward, Lewis said he saw a nightly newscast about a T. L. Hanna cross country runner, Ben Coleman, who has cerebral palsy.

Their story became the inspiration for the Walgreens vision of hiring people with disabilities and locating in Anderson, according to Lewis.

Radio, Coach Harold Jones, and Ben Coleman attended the event along with state and local government officials, multiple government agencies and area schools.

“It sounds good on paper, but can we do it?” said Walgreens CEO Jeff Rein during the opening presentation.

Rein said that Lewis had the vision and fortitude to take a chance. “It was a caring, inclusive attitude,” he said. “There is no us or them. We are all working together.” The Anderson DC stands for personal committment, he said.

For some, learning was not easy. It took committment, he said. “Once you believe in what you can do, you do it. You are happy to do it.”

He said that the people working there have a sense of accomplishment. “You can spend money on land and a building, but you can’t buy the hearts and minds of folks.”

More people attended the grand opening of the facility than attended the opening of the company’s 5000th store location according to Rein.

Rein said the facility is special and that the people working there are changing Anderson, South Carolina and the U. S.

“This is a big deal,” he said. “We are glad to be a part of this.”

“In wanting to change the workplace, what we found out was that we were changed,” Lewis said.

Walgreens partnered with 15 different agencies to reach their employment goals at the Anderson facility.

The project involved numerous state and local government officials, multiple government agencies and area schools.

Dale Thompson of the Anderson County Disabilities and Special Needs Board said that they were very involved from the beginning.

Their agency was asked through County Economic Development to do presentations and he said they found out early that “this company was special.” One of their requests was transportation, he said.

Stan Butkus, of the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs said, “It took a long time to get to this.”

He said the partnership included a lot of agencies working closely on the state and local level.

Butkus said that he had seen other examples of companies working with people with disabilities on a small local level, but nothing of the scale of the Walgreens Distribution Center.

“It is a step above what anyone else has done,” he said. “There is not anything like this in South Carolina and they have hopes of replicating the model across the country in other states.”

Butkus said they hope to “Raise a possible challenge to other companies that they can do this too.”

Anderson, Greenville, Pickens and Oconee, all the Anderson School Districts and Tri-County Technical College were all involved in the project.

Special training was offered at Tri County Tec. Walgreens provided three workstations for training potential employees. Some trained for more than a year before they actually started, officials said.

 Once they are hired, employees have a 45 day probationary period on the job.

The County boards provide four buses for transportation for the people with disabilities. Some may board a bus as early as 4:30 a.m. to get to work by the 7 a.m. start time.

The facility began receiving merchandise in January and became fully operational in April of this year.

The technology of the new facility allows it to operate 50 percent more efficiently and the people are at 25 percent above standard, officials said.

Lewis welcomed guests and introduced the government officials in attendance.

Among them were Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy, Councilman Otis Scott, Councilman David Harvell, Anderson Mayor Terence Roberts, Rep. Michael Thompson, Rep. Bryan White, Rep. Dan Cooper, Sen. Billy O’Dell, State Secretary of Commerce Joe Taylor and others.

Sen O’Dell said “I think it is a wonderful facility. They are doing so much for the County and the State.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity for Anderson County and the State,” said Rep. Michael Thompson. “It is a wonderful corporate model that we are extremely proud of.”

Mayors consider road fee proposal

By Stan Welch

District Six Councilman Ron Wilson continues his efforts to revive some form of a road fee for inclusion in this year’s budget. Monday night, he, along with several members of the County staff, met with five mayors from around the County.

The purpose of the meeting was to promote Wilson’s revised form of the road fee which was earlier deleted from the budget by a 4-3 vote of the Council. The original fee, as designed, would have funded employee raises in an amount equal to that which would have gone to funding the County’s bridge and road crew. It would have generated $4.1 million in revenue, or an amount equivalent to that by which the vehicle tax ratchet down reduced vehicle property taxes.

Council removed that fee from the budget ordinance at first reading, but Wilson has continued to seek to revive it, citing the infrastructure needs of the Powdersville area, which he represents. Under his proposal, five dollars would be withheld from the overall twenty dollar road fee imposed on each of the 164,000 registered vehicles in Anderson County. That five dollars would generate $820,000, to be divided among the municipalities in the County, based on the percentage of registered vehicles within their respective boundaries.

That percentage of cars, however, is not based on the total of 164,000 cars countywide. It is based on the total number of cars registered within all of the municipalities in the county. That number of vehicles totals 27,794, according to figures provided by county financial analyst Gina Humphreys.

For example, Williamston would receive $84,882 dollars, based on the approximately 9.6% of those 27,794 cars, and not the total number of 164,000. That percentage, however, if applied to the 164,000 total cars registered comes to more than 15,000 vehicles in Williamston. West Pelzer would receive $17,414, based on 2.18% of the 27,794 vehicles while Belton would receive $92,221 and Honea Path $73,886. Pelzer and Starr would each receive $10,000, even though they are not a taxing entity.

Anderson would obviously benefit the most, receiving $452,471 based on 56.56% of the cars registered in municipalities.

In attendance were the Mayors of Pelzer, West Pelzer, Williamston, Anderson and Honea Path. Council members from Pendleton and Honea Path were on hand as well as Anderson city Manager John Moore.

County transportation director Holt Hopkins was on hand to answer questions, along with county administrator Joey Preston, Gina Humphreys and planning director Jeff Ricketson.

Hopkins stressed that the County has no obligation to provide any funding assistance for the paving and maintenance of streets within town limits. “The law is clear. City streets are city streets. Four or five years ago, county Council began allocating a percentage of road funds for use in the various districts. I really can’t foresee that tradition changing.”

Honea Path Mayor Earl Lollis Meyers disputed that claim, as he often has. He cited state law and legal opinions from the attorney for the Municipal Association of South Carolina which support his claim that the county should maintain roads within the city limits. “We pay county taxes like everyone else, but we are told we have to keep up our own roads. That’s double taxing, and people are getting tired of it,” said the Mayor. Hopkins responded that Supreme Court rulings support his position, and the two men agreed to leave a long standing disagreement as it stands.

 Humphreys stated the administration’s position that a dedicated predictable source of revenue for road maintenance is needed, a need that a road fee would meet. Hopkins agreed, saying that Anderson County has 131 bridges, seventy of which need major repair or replacement within the next ten years.

Mayor Peggy Paxton, of West Pelzer, asked if a specific county tax on each gallon of gas sold would be legal or possible. “It seems to make sense to let those passing through on our roads help maintain them as well as the people in Anderson.”

Hopkins picked up on that thread, pointing out that the state now retains seventy five per cent of revenues generated by the state tax on gasoline, instead of the fifty per cent they used to keep. “We continue to feel the crunch as the state withholds more and more revenue for its own use,” said Hopkins.

 Anderson city manager John Moore asked if the new arrangement would supersede the existing arrangement, whereby towns can request county assistance with specific projects. County administrator Joey Preston replied that this proposed arrangement would have no effect at all on other existing sources of funding. This is above and beyond all those other things,” he said.

It was also explained that the funds, which will probably be disbursed on a quarterly basis, would be under the control of the towns receiving them. “If you want to contract for projects with private contractors, that will be your choice. If you want the county to do the work, we will still be available for everything we’ve done in the past. It’s up to the towns,” said Hopkins. Preston agreed, saying, “You all will have complete control of the money this way.”

District Seven councilwoman Cindy Wilson spoke briefly at the end of the meeting, saying that it remains important to account for how money is being spent by the administration already, before implementing new fees and taxes. Dan Harvell also spoke briefly, saying that the money for the roads is already available, but is simply being misspent by the administration.

Councilman Ron Wilson stated that he is not advising any of the municipal officials on what to do in terms of speaking to their Council representatives. “I just want them to know what is at stake here. No matter how the budget vote goes Tuesday night, it is good that we are meeting to find ways to work together.”

County taxes to increase 7.9 mils

By Stan Welch

With a wink and a blink, the Anderson County council approved a tax increase of  7.9 mils Tuesday night. Of that amount, 4.5 mils will be dedicated to paying off a $2.3 million deficit incurred by Sheriff Crenshaw during the last budget year. A proposed road fee which would have generated an additional $3.28 million was defeated.

Two weeks ago, County Council Chairman Bob Waldrep described the standoff between the county administration, which claimed there were no significant cuts in the budget, and those Council members who were insisting on reducing spending a game of budgetary chicken.

Tuesday night, with a $500,000 wink in spending cuts, some as small as five dollars, county administrator Joey Preston made Council blink, by approving more than four million dollars in new taxes. The cuts, which were presented as the third ingredient in a three part compromise, served as the trigger for that compromise.

Chairman Bob Waldrep, who said the compromise was needed because of the County’s overwhelming needs, said “I was just grateful to get the cuts.”

Those cuts came from a budget of approximately $122 million.

The approval of the new plan came after District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson had presented a list of suggested cuts, reorganizations and changes in priorities which she said could save more than $4.1 million, the amount of revenue which was knocked out of the budget by the first reading defeat of the original road fee proposed. She argued throughout the night that the money being sought was already in the budget, but was improperly allocated.

Essential to the plan’s success was the way in which the compromise was shaped. The existing budget contained 27.2 mills for county operations. The approval of the maximum millage increase of 4.74% allowed by Act 388, which limits millage increases, will generate 3.4 mils. All of that amount was added to the 27.2 mils, funding county operations at 30.6 mils.

According to county financial analyst Gina Humphreys, a mil is valued at $511,000 for the purposes of the proposed budget. The new budget will bring the county’s millage rate to eighty mills, excluding the increase for the Sheriff.

Under the new budget, that 30.6 mils would be allocated differently, with 18 mils being dedicated to road maintenance, and 12.6 mils left for general operations. As a result, two mils of the 3.4 mil increase will be dedicated to roads, a condition which District three Councilman Larry Greer called “the most significant thing we did tonight.” Those two mils would generate $1,022,000 for bridges and the bridge crew.

Greer explained that dedicating those two mils to roads and bridges would insure that as the value of the mil continues to increase, so too will the amount spent on bridges.

The 4.5 mil increase approved to pay off the sheriff’s deficit will be a one time special levy, and will be reflected as such on the tax bill. Chairman Bob Waldrep, speaking to The Journal during a recess following the budget vote, stressed that. “This is a one time thing. The 4.5 mils will be removed next year.”

Asked what would happen if such a deficit was incurred next year as well, Waldrep said, “I expect there would be a new Sheriff,” but he conceded that any Sheriff would be beyond the County Council’s control. “The sheriff has a tremendous amount of leverage. They can reduce or even refuse services. The only control we have is during the budget process, and as we’ve seen, that control is tenuous at best.”

That point was also stressed during Ms. Wilson’s presentation, during which she recommended placing several departments, such as the park police and litter enforcement under the Sheriff, in the interest of greater efficiency. Chairman Waldrep pointed out that such changes could only be made with the Sheriff’s approval, since he is a Constitutional officer, with complete control over his department’s operations.

District Six Councilman Ron Wilson, who had repeatedly expressed his refusal to increase taxes to assist the Sheriff, explained his change of heart by saying simply, “I just decided it needed to be done. It was a necessary compromise.”

Wilson came within a vote of passing his revised version of a road fee, in addition to the other increases. (See related story elsewhere in this issue).That fee would have represented an additional increase of $3.28 million. Wilson offered the plan as the final amendment to the budget ordinance, after the other elements had been approved.

Following a long and convoluted series of amendments, which would have given discounts or rebates to senior citizens, farmers, fleet operators, and several categories of veterans, the fee was finally defeated by a vote of 4-3.

The actual vote on the final budget was 5-2 with Ms. Wilson and District Five Councilman Michael Thompson voting in opposition. Following a recess after the vote, Council reconvened and immediately reconsidered the budget vote. Without further discussion, they reaffirmed their decision by the identical 5-2 vote, thereby making the budget ineligible for further review.

Regional water provider switches to safer disinfectant

The Anderson Regional Joint Water System will be converting its disinfection system from chlorine gas to a Mixed Oxidant (“MIOX”) system.   The switch will take place in mid-July, officials said.  Mixed oxidant systems have shown to be more efficient and powerful disinfectants with less chlorine taste and odor.   

According to a press release, benefits of the changes include safety, effectiveness and better taste.

The disinfectant, which is similar to a weak bleach solution, is generated entirely at the Lake Hartwell Water Treatment Plant from salt, water and electricity eliminating the transport of hazardous chlorine gas through the community.

The Mixed oxidants have been shown to achieve a more thorough and rapid inactivation of a wider range of microorganisms than traditional methods of disinfection and less chlorine is needed to maintain the required residual necessary to ensure public health resulting in less chlorine aftertaste and better taste.

During the switch, customers may experience cloudy water as the MIOX reacts with biological growth that it may encounter in existing system piping, but the water will continue to be safe to drink and use.  If any discoloration occurs, it will disappear within a few days with continued normal summer water use.

Anderson Regional Joint Water System is a partnership of rural and municipal water districts devoted to providing a high-quality, clean, safe, reliable, economical flow of treated water to its wholesale member agencies listed below.  For more information about your drinking water or the MIOX disinfection system, call the Anderson Regional Joint Water System at (864) 231-5987 or go to the website www.arjwater.com under the “News” tab. A copy of the current Consumer Confidence Report is available at http://www.arjwater.com/ccr06.pdf.

Officials not saying if local guard units will be closing

By Stan Welch

Col. Peter Brooks, the spokesman for the South Carolina National Guard, has denied persistent rumors that the Belton and Williamston National Guard armories are scheduled to be closed.

In guarded language, he did however, confirm some aspects of the rumors, mainly that those wishing to remain in the 151st Signal Battalion would indeed have to travel to either the Ware Shoals area or to  Camden to remain in the signal community. Col. Brooks did say that there are also signal units in Greenville and Spartanburg.

“I wouldn’t say that the Belton and Williamston armories are closing,” said Brooks. The Colonel added that a new force structure is being brought into the state, whether through transfer of units from active duty or the creation of new units within the Guard. Those units include engineers, an aviation unit, transportation units and military police.

Those in local Guard units wishing or willing to join one of those units may in fact remain at the same armories, which would eventually be occupied by markedly different units. Where those various units will be located Brooks didn’t say.

“Those signal units won’t stay the way they are. I’m not sure what will eventually be there as the new units come in. It’s all based on recruitment. That’s what drives the engine,” said Brooks, while also claiming that the two local armories have experienced no real  recruitment problems.

“Both those units are in good shape. I don’t know if they are at full strength, but typically each of them should have from a hundred to a hundred and twenty five troops.”

Generally speaking, many National Guard units have been experiencing recruitment and reenlistment problems in recent years, as stateside units have been deployed overseas on a broad scale due to the United States’ extended presence in the Middle East.

A Congressional aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged the problem, saying, “These Guardsmen generally didn’t sign up to spend two to four years in the deserts of Iraq. When they get home, they want to stay home.  It’s causing problems and forcing tough decisions on how the military uses its resources. That includes the National Guard.”

Another frequent rumor is that Belton is negotiating to buy their armory for municipal use. 

Town administrator David Watson says that while the Town would certainly be interested in the building, there is nothing official afoot. 

“We’ve been picking up rumor, street talk, if you will, that a closing might be coming. But we’ve heard nothing official. We’re in kind of a waiting mode. I know the building has a swimming pool, which the Town doesn’t have. We would certainly hope that we would be given first crack at the facilities.”

Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said he has called Congressman Gresham Barrett’s office for information. “We’ve been hearing this for some time, but I have heard nothing official,” said the Mayor Tuesday.

 The Journal also contacted both  Senators  Demint and Graham, as well as Congressman Barrett. Sen. Demint’s staff, as well as the congressman’s, were looking into the reports but had not provided any significant information prior to press time.

Seems to Me . . . Stalking case delays justice

By Stan Welch

It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand why Solicitor Crissy Adams continues to delay the release of the results of a SLED investigation into allegations of stalking and other harassing behavior towards county administrator Joey Preston and members of the County Council.

SLED officials have confirmed to the media that Adams has the results of that investigation on her desk, and has had them for several months now. What possible reason could there be for the delay in making those results public? Could we at least know that much?

Could it be the fact that there was not enough evidence to press charges or make arrests, despite the claims of former Chief Deputy Tim Busha? You might remember Busha’s extraordinary appearance before the County Council in March of 2006, when he told the Council, and a sizable audience, that the ACSO had, since November of 2005, been conducting an investigation into the allegations mentioned above.

He told Council that his department had audio recordings of harassing telephone calls, video tapes of people making those calls, and approximately 75 actual letters which were allegedly sent to Preston and various Council members. Immediately after making those statements, Busha informed everyone that the investigation had been turned over to SLED, and he could not discuss any of the details.

“We have all kinds of evidence but we can’t tell you about it.” Man, the Seven Eleven chain got rich selling that kind of convenience.

That was almost fifteen months ago. SLED has been investigating for more than a year, and they apparently had a heck of head start on the case, according to Busha. So far, two people have been questioned. No charges have been brought against anyone, and no arrests have been made. According to SLED, more than four hundred man hours have been spent investigating various aspects of the case.

I’ll tell you why I’m pretty sure that the reason Ms. Adams is still sitting on this case is because there’s nothing to report except that there’s nothing to report. In a conversation with SLED Chief Robert Stewart a couple weeks ago, he told me that if no charges are brought, then the results of SLED’s investigation become public record. He also assured me that, in that event, the information in SLED’s files would be made available to the media and the public in accordance with the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act.

Would those files include the seventy five salacious letters that Busha referred to? Would transcripts of the audio tapes be available? What would they show? Would the two or three letters sent to Preston and then Council Chairman Gracie Floyd, that I know personally to exist, meet the legal standard of harassment? If they do, I have been harassed many times during my years as a reporter. Would those files indicate why US Postal Service officials apparently weren’t concerned that such letters were sent through the mail?

It’s difficult to quantify different investigations, but it seems to me to be curious that allegations of impropriety in campaign finance against former Councilman Mike Holden were brought to a conclusion within a few months, while this tailor made gift wrapped case which was supposedly handed to SLED on a silver platter, has dragged on and on.

It is distressing just to think that the political hierarchy of Anderson County could be under such duress, and face such potential threats to their safety. To think that almost a year and a half has passed since the first reports of this behavior, without any resolution of, or even progress in, the case is unimaginable.

Just as Busha’s appearance before Council, as well as his unexpected invasion of the studios of a local radio station the next morning, raised suspicions about the nature of his motivations, so now does this continuing delay by Solicitor Adams raise similar questions.

One hates to think that politics might be at play here, but in the absence of any alternative explanation, suspicion is bound to grow. Does Ms. Adams have any such alternative to offer?

If, as SLED has stated, the investigation’s results are known to Adams, surely she has had ample time to decide whether or not charges are in order. If those results indicate that someone is in fact stalking Mr. Preston, or harassing him and his family, the safety of those threatened demands that action be taken.

Conversely, if the investigation results show no such threat, then that information should be released as well. If the problem is that the case was oversold from the beginning, making it difficult for certain people to extricate themselves from a mess of their own making, Ms. Adams should be concerned that it not become her mess.

There is, of course, another alternative to either closing the case or making arrests. That would be to try and kick the case to a different level of the legal system, thereby buying some time. Would a lunch meeting that alledgedly took place last week between Federal Judge G. Ross Anderson, Ricky Pruitt, business partner of Tim Busha, the supposedly out of favor Busha himself, and Sheriff Crenshaw offer any such possibilities? Could we be looking at yet another lengthy and unnecessary delay in learning exactly what SLED has learned about these allegations?

Seems to me such a delay could serve many causes, but the cause of justice would not be on that list.

Catergate results: no charges filed in stalking, harassment cases

By Stan Welch

After an investigation lasting more than a year, and involving more than 400 hours of investigation, Tenth Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams has declared four cases closed, having found no cause for action in any of the investigations.     

The cases stem from charges of stalking and harassment which were first brought to light by former ACSO Chief Deputy Tim Busha during a presentation to County Council in March of 2006.

At that time, Busha reported that county administrator Joey Preston, as well as other county officials, including some members of Council, had been receiving what he described as “salacious” letters. Busha said that seventy five letters or more had been received.

In a press release issued by Ms. Adams’ Office on June 20, those letters are described as numerous, but the release goes on to say that extensive forensic testing failed to ascertain their source. The release also refers to several interviews that were conducted.The subjects of those interviews are not identified in the release.

That investigation, case number 34-06-0058, required 120 hours of investigation.

Busha also reported that harassing and threatening phone calls had been made to Preston’s home, and that there were surveillance videos of those suspected of making the calls. No mention of such events or evidence is made in the release from Adams’ office.

He stated that the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office had conducted a preliminary investigation, but had turned that investigation over to SLED, to avoid any appearance of impropriety.

A case, numbered 34-06-0077 refers to a “potental financial transaction card theft.” The press release states that a personal cedit card number was in fact disseminated, but that the evidence did not warrant charges being brought.

The reference is to a situation in which county administrator Preston used his personal credit card to rent a room at a local hotel, According to Preston, he rented the room for State Rep. John Scott, who was coming to Anderson to speak at a Chamber of Commerce function.

A copy of the check -in records included a credit card receipt, as well as a registration card indicating that Preston and his wife were renting the room.

Case number 0077 required 107 hours of investigation.

A third case, number 34-06-0056 refers to a particular incident which has become known as Catergate. According to public records, a call  was made on the evening of March 10, 2006 concerning a disturbance at Cater’s Lake in Anderson.

Anderson City Police responded and found Preston with a female County employee. Witnesses claimed that the two were engaged in public intimate behavior.

It was shortly after those witnesses appeared on the Rick Driver Show, a local talk show, that Busha made his presentation to the County Council. At that time, he said that the Sheriff’s Department had sent Preston and the female employee to that location in order to entice the alleged stalkers to follow them.

“We told Mr. Preston and the employee where to go and when,” said Busha at the time.

At least one of those witnesses was brought in for questioning during the SLED investigation. 

Case number 0056 required 199 hours of investigation.

During an interview with SLED Director Chief Robert Stewart several weeks ago, he also referenced a fourth case, one involving allegations of official misconduct oby an Anderson County official. Whether that case refers to the events at Cater’s Lake is unclear, pending a review of SLED’s case files, which now become public record since no charges were filed.

That case, number 34-06-069, involved only seven hours of investigation.

The release from Adams’ office refers only to three “separate yet related cases”, though SLED Chief Stewart clearly provided four case numbers and descriptions to the Journal at an earlier date.

A request for a clarification on the status of that  case revealed that the case, number 34-06-0069, has also been closed.

 

 

 

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