News Archive

Week of July 16, 2003

Parole and Pardon Board denies Middleton pardon
Town responding to numerous FOI requests 
Decision to leave was personal for Lt. Brent Brooks
Water line break causes concern
West Pelzer officials begin budget analysis
County meeting features major announcements

Parole and Pardon Board denies Middleton pardon

The South Carolina Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services board has unanimously denied the pardon request made by Marion Middleton.

Middleton needed the vote of four of the seven members to be pardoned, according to Peter O’Boyle, spokesperson for the department.

Details of the hearing testimony were unavailable at press time. However, Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy and several others were expected to testify opposing Middleton’s pardon during the open hearing in Columbia.

Due to the practical limits of the rooms in which hearings are held, only 6-12 people are allowed to speak or be spectators at the hearings, according to O’Boyle.

Persons opposing the pardon were to testify before the board in a separate room located on a separate floor from persons in support of the pardon,  officials said.

Clardy said he planned to speak on behalf of victims of the crime, in this case the Town of Williamston. He said he would present and read a resolution approved by Williamston Town Council earlier this year.

The resolution, approved in a public meeting of Town Council on February  3, 2003, states the official position of the Mayor and Council is to oppose the requested pardon.

The resolution states:

Whereas Marion W. Middleton, while vested with the trust of the citizenry of the Town of Williamston as Mayor, and duly sworn to that trust by an oath of office, violated and tainted his public office by certain criminal acts, and by doing so has caused much grief, hardship and division in the Williamston Community and Whereas, on August 9, 2002, Marion W. Middleton pled guilty before the honorable Wyatt Saunders, Presiding Judge for the Tenth Judicial Circuit at the Anderson County Courthouse to such charges of embezzlement of public funds of more than $5,000 and conspiracy to commit a crime; and Whereas Marion W. Middleton has requested from The State a full pardon from his crimes and consequences; now, therefore be it resolved that on Monday, February 3, 2003, in a public meeting duly assembled, the Williamston Town Council established by majority vote an official position to OPPOSE the requested pardon of Marion W. Middleton so stated by this resolution.

The resolution is signed by Phillip E. Clardy, Mayor of Williamston. 

Anyone with an interest in the pardon was encouraged to offer input by writing the department.

Middleton pled guilty in August 2002 to embezzling $76,000 from the Town of Williamston during his term as mayor. He served 46 days of a 90 day sentence at the Anderson County Detention Center, receiving early release due to a work-credit program.

Under state requirements, Middleton could apply for a pardon once his sentence was served and full restitution was made. Under the terms of sentencing, Middleton’s probation ended upon payment of the restitution.

The Town of Williamston did receive the restitution payment of $76,000 from Middleton.

He submitted an application for pardon in November 2002. 

Persons requesting a pardon must complete an application, submit three letters of reference, and pay a $50 application fee.

According to state law, a person receiving a pardon is “fully forgiven from all the legal consequences of his crime and his conviction.” Persons pardoned may register to vote and vote, serve on a jury, hold public office, and be licensed for any occupation requiring a license, according to spokesperson O’Boyle. 

The Pardon and Parole Board originally had scheduled a hearing for June 10, but rescheduled at the request of Middleton.

Town responding to numerous FOI requests

Williamston Mayor Phillip Clardy said the administrative staff at Williamston Town Hall has been working more than 20 hours each week recently, to answer Freedom Of Information Requests.

Clardy said the requests vary from asking for a copy of everything ever spent by the town to requests for copies of the Town’s policy and procedures.

Many of the requests are from family members of former employees or are requests by former employees, according to the mayor.

 “They are trying to find something, some flaw,” the Mayor said. “They are try ing to retaliate against this administration.”

Clardy said there is a cost associated with the amount of time it takes to answer the requests.

“They are taking away from the town by having employees doing this instead of doing what needs to be done for the Town,” the mayor said.

Mayor Clardy has often encouraged citizens asking questions of himself and members of Council to submit the questions in writing to allow a proper response.

He has also stated on numerous occasions that his administration is “an open government.”

He said that FOI requests are not the only way to have questions answered.

“I would rather explain,” he said  “than to answer the FOI requests in writing.”

Clardy said several citizens have come in to discuss situations occurring in the town or to ask questions of himself or the town’s treasurer.

“Most are pleased with the responses to what they inquire to,” Clardy said.

Clardy said over the last two months, his staff has averaged 20 to 40 man hours per week in addition to the mayor’s time, answering or addressing FOI requests.

“It is time consuming to respond in writing, particularly after items have been archived,” the mayor said.

There have also been several FOI requests by news media, Clardy said.

“We have even had an FOI request of the FOI requests,” Clardy said.

Several citizens have told The Journal the town has delayed the response to their FOI request and that they have been charged for copies of the information requested.

FOI guidelines allow municipalities to charge for excessive time and copy costs necessary to respond to an FOI request.

The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act states that any person has a right to inspect or copy any public record of a public body in accordance with reasonable rules for time and place of access.

Language in the act is clear that records must be furnished at the lowest possible cost and in a convenient and practical form. There is also a provision to provide the documents free when the information is “primarily benefitting the general public,” which is generally the case with requests made by news organizations, according to South Carolina Press Association guidelines.

Public bodies have fifteen working days, excluding weekends and holidays, to respond to an FOI request.

Charging is not mandatory and public bodies cannot charge one fee for one person and a different fee for another, the guidelines state.

Decision to leave was personal for Lt. Brent Brooks

Brent Brooks, an eighteen-year veteran with the Williamston Police Department, said he resigned his position as Lieutenant recently because he is frustrated with the recent turmoil associated with the department and for other reasons he said were personal.

“I am disgusted and frustrated with the whole situation,” he said this week.

Brooks, who was promoted to Lieutenant June 9, said that his decision was a personal matter. He said that he made the decision because of the demands of the new position and the effects it was having on his personal life.

He said he was being given additional responsibilites and investigative work which he was not able to complete due to not having enough time.

Brooks said he was asked by chief Troy Martin to work long hours and in return received comp time instead of overtime pay. Then, when he attempted to use accumulated comp time, he said he was told to come in to work.

“I took three days off and they took one back,” he said.

“I was told by the chief to decide what I wanted to do,” Brooks said.

Brooks said he hated to leave the department, but his decision seemed to be a good one.

“I loved working for the people of Williamston,” he said. “I would bend over backwards. But the situation wasn’t going to get any better.”

Brooks said he was also frustrated because he thought the new chief was focusing more on the image and the politics of the department than on law enforcement in the town.

“The drug and traffic problems were left unattended,” Brooks said, “He wasn’t focusing on the real problems.”

Brooks said that due to recent circumstances surrounding the department, he also felt like his integrity as a police officer was being jeopardized.

Brooks, 38, was acting chief before Martin was hired as chief in May.

Chief Martin announced Brooks resignation last week. At that time he said Brooks told him, “he needed a break for awhile.”

“I wished him well and stated he would receive a positive recommendation from the police department and the Town of Williamston when he decided to resume his career,” Chief Martin said.

Brooks said his decision to leave was totally his and was not the result of pressure by the new chief or anyone else. When asked if he would return to law enforcement, Brooks responded, “Probably not.”

Brooks’ resignation was the latest of several personnel changes at the department since former chief Richard Turner was fired by Mayor Phillip Clardy in April.

Patrol officer Stephen Dooley turned in his resignation with the department recently. Martin said Dooley has accepted a position with Anderson City Police Department.

In response to the resignations, Sgt. David Baker has been promoted to Lieutenant and officers Jeff Motes and David Munger have been promoted to Sergeant.

Other recent departures include Sgt. Max Sailors, who resigned after briefly serving as acting chief, as well as Lt. Danny Hart and Sgt. Stephen Turner who both were recently fired.

An open grievance hearing has been scheduled for Hart for 5 p.m. July 31, at the Williamston Muncipal Center.

Hart said he requested an open grievance hearing and also asked to be allowed to have an attorney present, though he said he hasn’t decided if he will.

No request for a grievance hearing for Stephen Turner has been received by the Town, according to Mayor Clardy.

Water line break causes concern

A Boil Water Advisory issued for customers receiving water services from The Town of Williamston has been lifted as of Tuesday evening, officials said.

After intense flushing of the distribution system, bacteriological samples collected and analyzed by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control indicated that the system is safe to use for drinking and cooking purposes.

The Town of Williamston and DHEC issued the drinking water advisory after a 12 inch main water line break on a vital line crossing Big Creek. Town officials said a lightning strike in the vicinity was apparently the cause of the break.

Repairs to the water main were completed late Monday afternoon. However, as a precautionary measure, officials advised water customers to vigorously boil water for at least one minute prior to drinking or cooking until 7 p.m. Tuesday.

 The advisory was issued for any customers in the Williamston area that were billed by the Town of Williamston for water services.

The water line break caused a loss of pressure and service to many customers. There was no confirmed contamination of the system. However, because of the loss of pressure, the potential for comtamination existed officials said.

Intense flushing of the system is underway and pressure has been restored. Samples are also being taken throughout the affected areas to determine if the distribution system is free of bacterilolgical contamination, town officials said.

 

West Pelzer officials begin budget analysis

West Pelzer Town Council under the leadership of Mayor Peggy Paxton began a detailed analysis of the budget for the town during two workshops conducted last week. All council members were present for the workshops except Councilman Joe Turner.

Police Chief Anthony Smith was present Wednesday to explain and discuss expenditures for his department. He also advised the council that he is updating policies and procedures for the police department using guidelines from the South Carolina Municipal Association. Smith said he felt that some improvements in the department would make the police force more visible and more efficient.

With the goal of cutting costs in mind, the group raised many questions and discussed several options involving the expenses of the town.

Facing rising health insurance costs, the council discussed ways to reduce the current expenditure in the police department. The current health insurance is purchased at a cost of $463.44 per employee and features a $100 deductible. The possibility of going to a $200 deductible was discussed as an option to reduce cost. A decision was postponed pending further investigation and research.

The council questioned the policy of allowing officers to drive vehicles to and from home. Smith explained that local short-distance driving causes carbon to build up and that by allowing officers to drive the vehicles home less maintenance is required on the engines. The council also discussed the possibility of a maintenance contract for the three police cars in order to reduce costs.

Paxton reported that the town currently has a contract with Roger Scott for garbage pick-up which amounts to $26,010 per year. The council discussed reviewing the contract with the possibility of economizing in some way.

Several council members expressed concern that the town seems to have a large number of Nextel cell phones. Smith explained that the phones are helpful in the police department when no other means of communication will work. The council recommended locating and reviewing contracts on all Nextel phones purchased by the town.

Paxton advised that the accounting firm of Greene & Co. will be the auditors for the town. She also reported that every check issued by the town must have two signatures.

Council member Terry Davis suggested that the town purchase new keys which cannot be duplicated from a locksmith to better secure town facilities. The council also discussed maintaining set office hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sewer Supervisor Mark Vickery was present at the Thursday meeting to review expenditures for his department. Salaries for the two-employee department total $47,490.56. The council discussed the possibility of changing the one hourly employee to a salaried employee to better meet the job requirements and the needs of the town.

Paxton stated that town ordinance regarding stray animals would be strictly enforced. A $20 fine plus a $5 boarding fee will be charged for violations according to Paxton.

The council also discussed the possibility of purchasing some daily maintenance equipment such as a welding machine for the department. Vickery said that the most helpful piece of equipment for the sewer department would be a video camera which costs about $50,000. According to Vickery, the town would have to pursue a grant through Rusty Burns to be able to purchase the camera.

Paxton also discussed the possibility of issuing water bills every other month to save on administrative costs, postage and supplies. She stated that she was not sure how this would impact citizens on fixed incomes. Vickery reported that the Town of Pelzer is having success billing every other month.

Paxton also proposed that shirts be purchased with emblems or printing identifying employees of the sewer and water department.

With additional work to be done, the council scheduled workshops for Thursday and Friday of this week at 4 p.m. Interested citizens are encouraged to come and observe the budget process according to Paxton.

County meeting features major announcements

Tuesday night’s meeting of the Anderson County Council featured two major announcements by county officials.

John Lummus, Director of Economic Development, announced an expansion at Orian Rugs on Highway 81 North. The expansion plan involves an $8 million investment over a seven-year period. The company plans $3.2 million in a new distribution facility with a $4.8 million purchase of new equipment. Orian currently has 300 employees and expects to add at least 10 new employees due to the expansion.

The company located in Anderson County in 1978 and has invested $70 million in the community according to Lummus. Responding to concerns about tax incentives, Lummus added that during the first 19 years in the county the company received no tax incentives and “paid $600,000 in taxes last year.”

Led by a motion from Council member Fred Tolly, the council unanimously approved extending a FILOT (Fee in Lieu of Taxes) agreement which cuts the tax rate for the company from 10.5% to 6% over the next 20 years.

Director of Emergency Services Tommy Thompson announced that the South Carolina Highway Patrol will be moving its regional dispatch center from Greenville to Anderson effective August 1. The state would retain administrative control of the 10 dispatchers and provide equipment for the center according to Thompson.

An official from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control was on hand to present four recycling awards to county representatives – the Waste Reduction Recycling Award, the Recycling Team Award, the 2002 Recycler of the Year, and the 2002 Outstanding County or Municipal Program. Vic Carpenter, Director of Environmental Services, emphasized that the county has “the best recycling program in South Carolina and North Carolina.”

Council member Cindy Wilson led a discussion about solutions to speeding problems on Paulan Road. The council had originally voted to reduce the speed limit on the road to 25 mph only to learn that a state statute prevents speed limits below 35 mph on county roads. Transportation Director Holt Hopkins suggested using radar signs as a deterrent with assistance from law enforcement.

Council member Gracie Floyd asked about the next step regarding the report from the firearms committee which was presented at the last council meeting. County Attorney Tom Martin advised Floyd of the options available. Floyd said that she and Council members Clint Wright and Fred Tolly would meet to form a recommendation to the council.

Floyd read from a newspaper article which stated that she had “shut down” the firearms committee meetings. She reported that a vote of 15 to 1 determined that no more meetings were needed. “Gracie Floyd did not shut down the meeting,” she countered.

Capt. John Skipper of the Anderson County Sheriff’s Department gave a presentation to the council on computer software that would tie the department in to the 911 system and allow full identification of incoming calls. After separating from the 911 center over a year ago, Skipper explained that the department needed to maintain control of dispatch capabilities in order to reduce response times and eliminate unnecessary dispatch of units.

Skipper said that the department would prefer using money accumulated from the 911 tariff instead of grant money as originally planned. County Administrator Joey Preston explained that the 911 funds are being carried forward each year to pay for the cost of future improvements planned for the 911 system.

After several questions and discussion from council members, the council supported the proposal and left the funding decision in the hands of Preston.

In her remarks at the end of the meeting, Wilson questioned the county’s decision to use Elliott Davis as accountants since the firm also performed consulting for the county. Wilson asked to see a copy of the contract with the company and emphasized that the county needs a “firewall” between auditing and consulting.

 

 

 

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