News Archive

(3007) Week of July 25, 2007

Tradegy avoided in river incident
Hiring process questioned
Spring Water Festival set for August 25
Trust, communication key for administrator position
County library director to retire
Deputies search for Pelzer man after assaulting father
Burkhart family express concerns about case
Seems to Me . . .Citizens deserve better

Tradegy avoided in river incident

A family outing on the Saluda River near Pelzer could have had a tragic ending for a boater or teens along the bank.

After putting in his boat at the lower ramp, David Simpson and his son were boating and fishing, going up stream.

Approximately 100 yards upstream, they passed a  narrow spot in the river. The area has a sand bar where kids often play, according to Simpson.

Upon returning down the river,  Simpson said he slowed the boat to get through the narrow area. As he did, a rock was thrown at the boat by a person on the bank.

Simpson said there were several young teens ranging from about age 12 to 16 years.

An older teen apparently threw the rock, which narrowly missed Simpson’s son, hitting the side of the boat.

“It could have been very hazardous for my son,” Simpson said. “It barely missed him.”

The incident could have had other consequences.

“However, when people are on the river, they are aware of snakes, and many carry some form of protection,” he said.

That form of protection is often a gun.

“It could have been a disaster.”

“It was a family day and it almost became a tragedy day because of stupidity,” he said.

Simpson said he grew up in the area and often was on the river as a child and a teen.

I have never, ever had a problem in any way, he said.

Simpson said he took his boat out of the water and called the sheriff’s department.

He was told that there was a two hour backup and if no one was hurt there was basically nothing the Sheriff’s department could do.

Simpson said that he considered the rock thrown at his boat a physical assault.

Other boaters may not be as restrained in responding to a similar situation.

“Boaters know there are snakes,” he reiterated. “And many boaters carry some form of personal protection.”

“It could have become a very bad emergency situation not only for my family, but for the people on the bank,” he said.

West Pelzer hiring process questioned by councilman

By Stan Welch

Members of the West Pelzer Town Council have circumvented open meeting laws and engaged in political chicanery in their efforts to appoint a Town Clerk, according to Council member Mike Moran.

Moran contacted The Journal to report his version of how the hiring process has been hijacked, and in fact, was a futile exercise from the start. 

“The decision about who to hire was made before we even began the process,” said Moran, in a recent telephone interview. “We just wasted $800 of the people’s money advertising the position.”

 “I asked Joe Turner at the very start of this process whether the decision had already been made, because I had heard rumors that this woman was going to get the job. He told me no, that everyone was keeping an open mind.”

At that same meeting, Mayor Paxton alluded to those rumors as well. “I can write down the name of the person you’re planning to hire and seal it in an envelope if you want me to.”

Moran says that three members of Council stated at the last meeting held to review applications and conduct interviews that they had decided on a candidate.

“That came as a real shock to me because when this woman’s name came up at the very first meeting we held more than a month ago, both Joe Turner and Marshall King agreed with the auditor’s opinion that she didn’t have the right qualifications. I asked them both if we should send her application to the next phase, and they said no.”

The applications had been forwarded to Greene & Co., the town’s auditing firm. Mayor Paxton previously explained why that action was taken. “First, we didn’t have a town clerk to keep up with the applications. Second, since a big part of the job is maintaining records in a way that provides accurate information for the auditors, I just thought they could help us weed out those who didn’t reflect the skills or training on their applications that is needed.”

As the interview process went on, Moran says that various applicants dropped out. “Some weren’t qualified, some decided the pay was too low, some just got other jobs, I guess,” said Moran. “But this woman’s name never came up. Then, at the last meeting, I asked the others who were going to be put on the final list of three candidates.

Councilman King said to just cut it down to four. “That way, we didn’t have to put the names in the paper.” (Editor’s note: The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act requires that the final list of three candidates for a given job be made public, along with their qualifications and training.)

Moran continued, “Councilman Jimmy Jeanes brings out this woman’s application. He told us he had given her his word she’d get the job. I asked Joe Turner and Marshall King what they thought, and they said they agreed with Jimmy.”

Councilman Jeanes denied later that he said what Moran quoted him as saying.

Moran said he called the woman and she came to the Town Hall to be interviewed. “Jimmy and Joe and Marshall all left when she got there, but Mayor Paxton spoke to her alone for a few minutes. To my knowledge, this woman has yet to be formally interviewed by this Council.”

Councilman Turner, contacted for comment, said that no decision has been made. “We don’t have it down to a final list yet. But we have interviewed everybody. The mayor interviewed the last one by herself. You should call her to ask her about that.”

A work session was scheduled for Monday, July 23 to discuss the Town’s debris removal ordinance and amendments to the budget. That meeting was changed to Wednesday night, but no agenda was published, making it uncertain why the meeting was being held at all. Turner and Moran agreed that no decision could be made on the Town Clerk at that meeting.

Moran says the whole process has become a joke. “These councilmen went out and recruited this woman, in my opinion. Why, I don’t know. But here we have a town that faces so many real problems, and they can only think about conniving to get their person in as town clerk. Now, if she is ultimately hired, I will support her. But this is not the way to do the town’s business and it needs to stop.”

Spring Water Festival set for August 25

The Spring Water Festival will celebrate its 26th year of providing a fun filled family event on Saturday, August 25 in Williamston’s Mineral Spring Park.

The Springwater Committee, a group of volunteers which organized the festival last year, will again take responsibility for the annual event with the support of town officials.

The Springwater Committee is  chartered with the State of South Carolina and has a 501C3 non-profit status.

Proceeds from the festival go toward improvements in the park and to fund the town’s other annual event, the Christmas Park, held each year in December.

David Meade will again chair the festival. Co-chair is Steve Ellison. Other committee members include Jim Barnes, treasurer; Barbara Davis, secretary; Ellen Harvell, crafts; Dianne Lollis, displays/children’s entertainment; Catlin Tierce, gospel stage; Jim Riddle, food; Mark Pitts, souvenirs;  Shirley Pace, Kenneth Bearden,and Joe and Diane Greco.

Thomas Addison is providing artwork for the festival T-shirt. The Williamston Police Department and the State Guard will provide traffic control and security.

This year’s festival will feature expanded hours, beginning at 10 a.m and going until 8 p.m.

Food vendors and crafters will also be asked to remain for the extended hours this year and a local beach music group will provide entertainment for the last hour and a half.

“Due to the many requests we received last year as the festival was winding down in the afternoon, the committee decided to extend the hours,” Meade said.

“This will allow people who either had to work or weren’t able to come out early to enjoy the festival.”

A variety of entertainment will be held on the amphitheater stage during the early hours of the festival.

A new event, the Spring Water Festival Junior Miss Pageant will be held at 11am on the amphitheater stage.  There will be four age divisions for children 0  to 8 years of age. Each contestant will receive an award.  The cost is $15 to enter, and the deadline is August 4.  Entry forms may be picked up from Debra’s Designs or The Journal or call Sherri Cole at 864-847-5501 for more information or to have an entry form mailed to you.

Musical entertainment on the amphitheater stage will feature three local groups, Krawlfish, The Saluda River Catfish and The Royal Scotsman Band will perform  classic rock, the Saluda Valley sound and beach music. throughout the afternoon.

One stage will feature a variety of gospel oriented music throughout the day.

Persons attending the festival are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and enjoy the variety of free entertainment. 

Other features include business and non-profit displays, kids activities and entertainment, amusement rides, special artisan displays and a variety of arts and crafts.

Local businesses are invited to  have a display at the festival to promote their goods and services. For more information contact Lollis at 847-5743.

There will also be rides offered by Palmetto Amusements, which provided rides for the festival last year. A festival favorite, the pirate ship, which was purchased just for the festival will again be there.

The 2007 Spring Water Festival will feature a Spring Water Run, being organized by Chris Bradberry and Renee Rowland.

Persons interested in participating in the run can pick up an entry form at The Journal in Williamston, Nationwide Insurance in Belton or call Bradberry at 864-420-3282.

Local crafters who would like to display handmade items for sale at the festival are also invited to participate. Applications are still being accepted. Contact Ellen Harvell at 847-5588.

The festival will again feature one of the upstate’s largest antique and classic auto shows, being sponsored by the Williamston Fire Department. To register contact Steve Ellison at 864-847-4950.

The Fire Department will also offer rides on the antique fire truck, a festival favorite.

Local non-profit organizations will provide a variety of food items to hungry festival goers and at the same time it is a major fundraiser for most of them.

The food area is being expanded and  will include more food vendors offering items never before offered at the Spring Water Festival.

Vendors will offer the usual items including barbecue, hot dogs, hamburgers, sno-cones baked goods and ice cream.

New vendors will make eating at the festival this year a real treat. One lowcountry vendor who specializes in shrimp will be attending the festival and another will offer Italian sausages.

Additional infomation will be published in The Journal and is available on line, along with application forms at www.springwaterfestival.com.

Trust, communication key for administrator position

By Stan Welch

The Town of Williamston recently created the position of town administrator. Two towns, at different ends of the state, and with different circumstances, are making the combination of a strong mayor form of government as well as the presence of a town administrator, work successfully.

Jonathan “Fox” Simons, Jr. has been city administrator in Easley for nine months now, although the town has had the strong mayor form of government for a number of years. Simons has been in public administration for some time as well, but the Easley job is his first as town administrator. Simons says the combination of circumstances works pretty well. “I would characterize it as running fairly smoothly,” said Simons. “It actually works very well here.”

Easley has 175 employees.

Mayor M.E. Christopherson was on vacation and was not available for comment.

Bill Taylor has been town administrator in Cheraw for twenty six years. “I’ve served three mayors, and the combination worked a little differently with each, but it worked.”

Both men say there are two keys to the situation – trust and communication.

“The Mayor and Council have to trust you to do your job, and you have to trust them to give you the tools you need to do that job, tools such as the proper ordinances, resolutions, and backing you up when tough decisions have to be made. Without those things, the job becomes much tougher,” said Taylor.

One of the ordinances defining the administrator’s powers and role which Williamston is studying as a possible model is Cheraw’s ordinance. “We sent a copy over to the town attorney a while back, so they could get an idea about how they wanted theirs to read,” said Taylor. “It will at least give them an idea.”

Cheraw has 110 employees.

Both men stress the importance of communication. “It smoothes things out a lot if you keep the Mayor and Council well informed. Very few elected officials, in my experience, like surprises,” said Simons.

Taylor takes it even further. While the town has one official meeting a month, he began holding a weekly briefing for the Mayor on Wednesdays, so “he would have an answer if somebody asked him a question at church or the grocery store.”

The mayor liked the idea so much he began including a Council member here and there. “One day, I walked in my office and there was a quorum of the Council, waiting on a briefing. I said, whoa, we need to do something a little different here. So we made it a standing open meeting with the press and public invited, but we kept it as a briefing. It has really served us well. In addition, our local newspaper folks are much more aware of what we are doing, and that helps them be better informed as things happen.”

As part of that communication effort, Taylor says the town incorporates an annual planning session that precedes the budget by a few weeks. “The staff and I inform the Council and Mayor about what we have facing us in the coming year, whether it is grants we’re seeking, or mandates we’re facing, or just the day to day requirements of running a town of 6000 people. They let us know what they are hoping to achieve for the town in the coming year. Hopefully, when the budget comes out, we’ve reflected those things in it. But it gives us all a chance to see where we are and where we are headed for during the year, and that helps a lot.”

Both men say a third element is also very important to any successful effort. 

“You have to respect the fact that these men and women are elected to serve the people in their towns,” said Taylor. “But they also have to respect the fact that my staff is well trained and educated in the issues of public administration. Of course there will be disagreements over certain things, especially when the political considerations come into play. My job is to serve the town, not to serve the Mayor or the Council. But they are the means by which the town expresses their wants and needs, so they must be respected and listened to.”

Simons agrees, saying, “There are always times when an individual councilman or even the Mayor inject themselves into daily operations. But that happens in every form of government in every part of this state. When it does, we all work it out and deal with it. The trick is to try not to let it blow up to be more than it is.”

Taylor says he sees his role as being something like a policeman. “I am hired to be sure the town’s ordinances are obeyed. Now, if Council or the Mayor chooses to go beyond those boundaries, that’s their call. It’s my job to make sure they know what those boundaries are.”

County library director to retire

By Stan Welch

After thirty three years at the helm of the Anderson County library system, Carl Stone is about to close the book on that chapter of his life.

In 1974, Stone was hired as the director of the county library system. System might have been a kind term for the scattering of seven undersized and under-supported facilities which he inherited. Many of the small towns had their own libraries, but they were subpar. In Piedmont, for example, the 400 square foot library was actually in the jail.

The largest facility at the time was the library in Williamston, at a whopping 2000 square feet. 

 “The first large library we built was the Iva branch, which measured 5500 square feet. At the time, Williamston and Pelzer each had their own libraries. We built the Lander Library in Williamston, which was 6000 square feet and could serve all three of the small towns in the area,” said Stone.

Iva and Williamston are now two of the smallest libraries in the system. Piedmont has grown to 3400 square feet, but is still small compared to most other libraries in the system. He added that he wouldn’t anticipate any further expansion or enlargement of the library in the near future.

“I think this phase of construction will slow for awhile. We built the main library in Anderson. We built a new library in Belton, and then the new one in Pendleton. Soon, the new Powdersville facility will be open. That’s three libraries in seven years, so I expect we’ll stop building for awhile.”

 Stone received his degree from USC and his Masters’ in librarianship from Emory University. He worked for awhile at the University of Georgia, then moved to Richland County, where he was librarian for several years before coming to Anderson.

 “It took a good bit of work and time passing to build the trust among the various towns that a county wide system was the way to go. Now, people in Anderson County can walk into a library in any corner of the county, just as if it were on the corner of their street. We built the system up like stair steps. The libraries got bigger a little at a time. I think Anderson County can be proud of their library system.”

 Stone plans to relax for a while before returning to public activity. “I’ve been working at one job or another for fifty four years. I think I can stand a few weeks off. Then, I have some offers and some interests in the charity field. So I’ll still be around.”

Deputies search for Pelzer man after assaulting father

Anderson County Sheriff’s Deputies are searching for Niko Benjamin Colvin, a 19 year old Pelzer man. Colvin is wanted for assault with a deadly weapon, use of a vehicle without consent, and malicious damage to property, following an assault on his 52 year old father, Nam Van Phan.

According to police records, an argument began when Mr. Phan offered Colvin five dollars to put gas in his car. Colvin became angry, and drove the car around the house, at 122 Roger Dr., revving the engine until he blew it up. A second argument began, which resulted in Phan fleeing to his neighbor’s house, where Colvin kicked the door, stabbed the door and broke a window. He managed to force entry into the neighbor’s house and, according to the report, intended to harm his father but his brother stopped him. Colvin then left in Phan’s 1997 Ford Ranger truck.

Colvin is Asian, and is 5’6", 160 pounds, with black hair and brown eyes.

 Another 19 year old Pelzer man, Jeffrey Case Haynes, WM, 18, 5’9", 135 pounds, brn/grn, of 1110 Orr Street, evaded  deputies on July 18 when they attempted to apprehend him on a Greenville County warrant for burglary. The pursuit began on Smythe Street in Pelzer and continued into Greenville County, where Haynes turned into a driveway, and drove through the back yard, through a kudzu patch, between a light pole and the guy wire attached to it. Three days later, on Saturday, Haynes was arrested.

PELZER

July 17 – J.D. Shelton responded to 103 Creekwood Court, where Peggy Mason, 72, reported that she had let her daughter use her car while she was in the hospital and had been unable to get it back from her daughter. The vehicle is a 1998 Chrysler Sebring convertible, red with a black top, with SC license #241VYR.

July 17 – M.D. Campbell responded to 445 Ballard Rd. where Wayne Horne reported that two vehicles parked in his yard had been entered and items stolen.

 July 20 – M.D. Campbell responded to the Bi-Lo where he found Brian Neely, WM, 39, 5’8", 135 pounds, black/hazel. He had been seen shoplifting two cans of beer. He was placed on trespass notice and transported to ACDC.

July 21 – T.L. Chapman responded to 18-A River Rd. where Ted Foster reported the theft of his 1989 White Honda Civic.

July 22 – M.T. Szymanski responded to the SaveWay Station on Highway 20 where the clerk reported that a white female, 5’3", medium build, with blond hair, had put $34.27 worth of gas in her car and driven off. The car was described as a red 90’s model Chevy Malibu.

PIEDMONT

July 16 – W.E. Gregory was dispatched to 9 Anderson St. where Thomas West , owner of Piedmont Associates, reported that someone had thrown a rock breaking the glass door of the business. Damage was estimated at $100.

July 18 – T.B. Dugan responded to 401 River Road where Joseph Reid reported that someone had stolen his weed eater. It was a Craftsman gas powered model and it was valued at $100.

July 18 – J.D. Shelton received a report by telephone from Mary Alexander that her husband’s wallet had been stolen while he was at a local convenience store. The wallet, which contained $1100, was reportedly stolen while he was inside the store paying for gas.

July 19 – T.B. Dugan responded to 2231 Firetower Road, where William Sweezy reported that Maria Pate had been in the house threatening to kill everyone. She had been armed with a knife, which Robby Sweezy managed to knock from her hand. She then locked herself in her car and refused to exit, even after police sprayed her with pepper spray through a lowered window. Deputies finally got into the car with a lockout tool and arrested her for criminal domestic violence and resisting arrest.

July 22 – W.E. Gregory was dispatched to 138 Mountain Lake Dr. where Jennifer Bleckley reported that someone had broken out the back window of her 2001 Chevrolet Cavalier. Damage was estimated at $300.

July 22 – T.L. Chapman responded to 338 Osteen Hill Rd. where Edward Hare, of the Tugaloo Pipeline Co. reported that someone had cut a dam built by the company in order to seal off an area where a pipe was being installed as part of the construction of the new water treatment plant. The area had flooded and would require between $5000 and $10,000 worth of work and time to restore.

WILLIAMSTON

July 17 – M. Voigt responded to 120 Kirsch Dr. where Ronnie Jordan reported that someone had broken into the trailer and stolen various items, including two vehicles, valued at a total of $3000.

BELTON

July 17 – J.W. Mills responded to 1354 Pinson Farm Rd. where he was informed of the theft of a lawn tractor with 15.5 HP and a 38 inch deck. It was red in color and valued at $3600.

July 18 – P.D. Marter was dispatched to the Jockey Lot to investigate a break-in into one of the units. An undisclosed amount of stereo equipment was taken.

July 21 – S.M. Ambridge responded to 3810 U.S. Hwy 29 where Leighton Cromer reported the theft of an amount of iron rod furniture from the porch of his mother’s home. The furniture was valued at $770.

Burkhart family express concerns about case

By Stan Welch

Nearly ten years after a gun battle claimed three lives in a kudzu patch near Seneca, the only survivor, Troy Alan Burkhart, is just days away from a sentencing hearing that could leave him in prison for the rest of his life.

That doesn’t sit well with Burkhart’s family and supporters, who say they were told that the sentencing hearing would be in six to nine months. Suddenly, because Solicitor Chrissy Adams offered to take the death penalty out of play, the hearing was moved up, leaving the family  just a few days.

“We had planned to prepare for this sentencing hearing by presenting depositions that support Troy’s version of the events, and not the prosecution’s. We have learned new information and have witnesses who will support what Troy has been saying. Now, his lawyer, the public defender, won’t even do what Troy wants done, which is to file a motion to delay this hearing. It’s just terribly frustrating,” says Lori Burkhart, Troy’s sister.

Burkhart, his sister Lori, and his wife Michelle continue to press their case that Burkhart is innocent, on the grounds of self-defense, arguing that the two men and the woman killed that day were sent by Burkhart’s uncle, Ronnie Burkhart, to kill Troy.

In the year 2000, Burkhart was convicted of the three killings and originally sentenced to death. The South Carolina Supreme Court overturned the conviction due to the judge’s instructions to the jury.

The instructions by Judge Donald Beatty failed to explain that the prosecution had to disprove self defense beyond a reasonable doubt. 

“Ms. White never disproved self defense. She didn’t even come up with any motive for why Troy would just kill these people, if it wasn’t forced on him,” says his sister, Lori Burkhart.

A second trial also resulted in a conviction, and it also resulted in an appeal. Again, the result was overturned, but this time, only the sentencing part of the trial was overturned.

The Supreme Court refused to hear a third and recent appeal, and sentencing is scheduled for Friday, July 27 at the Anderson Courthouse. Burkhart, now 39 years old, is expected to be sentenced to three terms of life in prison. He has already spent approximately five years on Death Row, and a total of ten years behind bars.

 His sister and his wife continue to stand by him and declare his innocence. They have been actively seeking support for their efforts to get him yet another trial.

The two women, as well as Troy Burkhart himself, insist that he acted in self-defense that night. 

They point to the fact that he turned himself in to the Seneca police shortly after the events. They also question the manner in which the crime scene and the evidence were handled, and even challenge the propriety of then assistant solicitor DruAnne White and Judge Buddy Nicholson, Jr. being involved with the trial. Judge Nicholson, Jr. will also preside over Friday’s sentencing hearing.

Court documents provided by the two women to The Journal indicate that the crime scene was unsecured for several hours before it was finally spotted from the air by the ACSO’s helicopter. Burkhart said he had no idea where he was when he fled the scene after the shootings. He turned himself in to Seneca police because he knew a lieutenant on the force and he thought the scene was in Oconee County.

Those documents indicate that even after the crime scene was established, it was mismanaged in terms of locating and protecting evidence. 

According to Burkhart, two brothers, Shane and Stacy Walters were sent by his uncle, Ronnie Burkhart, an alleged  major cocaine smuggler and, according to statements made by then Sheriff Gene Taylor,  known associate of Pablo Escobar, who once ran the Medellin drug cartel in Colombia, South America.

Both Burkhart and Escobar are since dead. Burkhart died of liver cancer shortly after Troy Burkhart’s first trial, while Escobar was killed by law enforcement agents of the Colombian government.

Burkhart says there had been bad blood between the family and Ronnie Burkhart, ever since the death of the father of Ronnie and Warren, Troy’s father.

Warren served sixteen years with the Dade County Sheriff’s department. The situation became worse when Troy made known that he was seeking work as a police officer for the City of Anderson. He reportedly told a number of people that when he was a policeman, he would go after his uncle. According to Burkhart, that was when the contract was taken on his life.

 Burkhart swears that the two Walters brothers, who worked for his uncle, and one Sonya Cann, who was Shane’s girlfriend, tried to get him to ingest a white powdered drug while riding around in the truck. 

Burkhart, who had experimented with drugs when he was younger, and who admitted using methamphetamine with the Walters several hours before the shootings, refused. He says that’s when things changed, and it became clear he was to be killed. He also claims he was to be sexually assaulted as part of his uncle’s plan.

Burkhart says that when Shane Walters aimed Burkhart’s own gun at him, he fought for the gun and got it away from him. He says he then randomly sprayed the cab of the truck, killing all three of the deceased. The prosecution claimed that he started firing inside the truck and later shot at least one victim while she was on the ground.

He then reportedly left the field and drove to his father’s house. They went to Troy’s house where Michelle joined them, and on to the Seneca police department.

Burkhart and his supporters question the manner in which the evidence was handled. According to Lori Burkhart, and to documents related to the case, as part of the legal discovery process prior to his first trial, Burkhart was taken, fully shackled and in the company of his attorneys, to view the truck in which the events took place. During a brief examination of the truck, Burkhart found a knife in the back seat, which he had told police Stacey Walters had put to his throat during the struggle in the truck. He also found a live round for the deer rifle that was found in the truck. One of the Walters had two other rounds of the same caliber in his pocket. Burkhart says this is proof that the evidence was mishandled from the start.

Ms. White conceded that evidence might be found at a later date, but adds that is why evidence is retained for so long. “He may be right on that matter, but the reason we hold evidence like the truck, for so long is because we might learn something during the investigation that makes something else more important.”

 Burkhart and his supporters have a long list of such claims and allegations, concerning the manner in which both the investigations and the trials were conducted.

White, for example, claimed that Burkhart had stomped the victims wearing heavy boots. Lori and Michelle Burkhart both say that Troy was wearing bloody tennis shoes when he turned himself in to Seneca police. An evidence inventory, included in discovery documents, confirm that fact. Troy says he may have run over one or more of the victims as he sped from the kudzu patch, leaving tires marks on them.

Burkhart’s wife and sister argue that Solicitor White and Judge Buddy Nicholson, Jr. should not have participated in the second trial, since they had also conducted forfeiture hearings against Ronnie Burkhart, forfeiture hearings that they allege resulted in the Solicitor’s office receiving a million dollars in confiscated funds. They also allege information on the progress of the trial was made available to Ronnie Burkhart by someone in the Solicitor’s office.

“How could Druanne White, knowing about Ronnie Burkhart’s involvement in drug trafficking, stand in front of a jury at my husband’s trial and tell them what a hard-working guy Ronnie was?” asked Michelle Burkhart, in a recent interview with The Journal.

Ms. White, was defeated by current solicitor Chrissy Adams in her bid for reelection, and is currently in private practice.

Seems to Me . . .Citizens deserve better

By Stan Welch

Well it seems to me that this whole Catergate/harassment/stalking thing just won’t go away, will it?

First, we had an incident in which the county administrator is reported to be in a most compromising position with a female county employee. Then, as pressure mounted for an explanation of that report, the chief deputy for the sheriff’s department appeared before County Council to provide just such an explanation for Preston’s presence at Cater’s Lake; an explanation that created at least twice as many questions as it answered.

So riddled with holes was the explanation, that within weeks it had become the new standard on job applications and IQ tests. “Do you believe there was a sting operation at Cater’s Lake?” A yes answer assured you of a janitorial career, or a seat on the short bus.

Then SLED spent months and months investigating all the aspects of the case, and was unable to provide any evidence worth legal prosecution. Solicitor Chrissy Adams decided to press no charges of any kind against anyone, anywhere. None. No charges. Finis.

Deep sighs of relief were heard throughout the land. Law enforcement officials began to breathe easier and to live again in the hope that this stink, stirred up by the chief deputy, would at last die down. Similar sighs of relief were heard from the clock tower at the court house. But other sounds came from that edifice as well. There were grumblings of discontent and dissatisfaction.

A lot of effort had gone into trying to distribute blame to the desired locations, and that effort had not been rewarded. While Mr. Preston had come through the ordeal essentially unscathed, so too had Cindy Wilson, whose name was somehow bandied about far more frequently in the case files, and by the wagging tongues of the gossips, than was Mr. Preston’s. One would have thought she had been at Cater’s Lake that night, instead of Mr. Preston.

But at the end of it all, no action was taken. Ms. Wilson’s association with the citizens who were questioned by SLED was deemed somewhat less sinister than, say, the Bush family’s association with the Saudi royal family.

But that wasn’t good enough for four members of County Council, who lacking any law enforcement authority whatsoever, nevertheless took it upon themselves to punish Ms. Wilson for what they perceived as offensive behavior. They chose to do so despite, or perhaps because of, frequent complaints that their own  behavior is offensive to many in the county. Now, this is the same Council which never even went into executive session to ask Mr. Preston what he was doing at Cater’s Lake. Instead, they allowed the fiasco that Catergate became, to fester rather than take action and address what was clearly a personnel and policy matter.

After months of inaction, these four Council members suddenly decided that despite SLED’s and the Solicitor’s findings to the contrary, Ms. Wilson was somehow involved in the stalking and harassment that SLED also found didn’t take place. So let’s summarize. SLED found there was no actionable level of harassing or stalking behavior to begin with. The Solicitor concurred. SLED also found that Ms. Wilson’s role in the non-existent behavior was also completely legal. The Solicitor again concurred.

Council, however, determined that there was threatening and harassing behavior and that Ms. Wilson knew something about it. They set out to find a way to learn what they think she knows. They set out to do so by putting into action a plan that many consider extortion. Many more consider it improper, and even the four Council members must realize by now that it was stupid.

These four Council members chose to vote to deny Ms. Wilson access to the recreation funds set aside by law for each Council district. Approval of requests for those funds has been pro forma, or automatic, for years. It is much the same with individual Council member’s appointments of citizens to committees and boards. The Council has normally taken the conventional and appropriate position that an elected official should have the authority to make the decisions for the district for which they are responsible. That professional courtesy has allowed some standard of civility to exist on the often fractious Council.

Instead, the four members decided that they would deny the thousands and thousands of citizens of District Seven the use of the discretionary funds established by law. In addition, they did so in such a manner as to make it clear that a violation of the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act had occurred, when they agreed to cast the denying votes before the requests were even made. The next day, they even admitted in the newspaper that they had decided beforehand to teach Ms. Wilson a lesson. I suspect more than one lesson is currently being learned by various members of council.

Whether other laws were broken is for legal minds. Was the action, clumsy and awkwardly executed as it was, the first shot in a campaign for Wilson’s Council seat next year? If so, the strategists involved better step up their game. It seems to me that after several efforts to meddle in District Seven politics, the operatives assigned to the task would be better at it than they are.

Whether the Council majority did a foolish and divisive thing is less debatable. Chairman Waldrep was clearly disillusioned and disappointed by the actions taken.

Mr. Wilson, who had been migrating towards a more moderate and supportive position on the Council, surely got a glimpse of the wolf beneath the sheep’s clothing.

To the casual observer, the childish glee with which the Council members delivered their message to Ms. Wilson does not bode well for a county which faces serious concerns, and which needs mature leadership in order to flourish.

Seems to me the people of District Seven and of Anderson County deserve better.

 

 

 

 

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