(3806) Week of Sept. 20, 2006
Palmetto readies for homecoming
Palmetto High School will crown a new homecoming queen during halftime activities at the Palmetto vs. Chapman football game this Friday evening.
Homecoming Candidates include Nikki Green, daughter of Colleen and Rick Green of Pelzer; Brittany Davenport, daughter of Kristy Landreth and Kevin Davenport of Williamston; Kadie Zahnd, daughter of Lori and Todd Zahnd of Belton and Hannah Johnson, daughter of Tauna and Randy Johnson of Williamston.
Also Brooklyn Williams, daughter of Robin Newsome and Steve Williams of Williamston; Jill Bagwell, daughter of Cathy and John Bagwell of Pelzer; Katie Meade, daughter of Karolin and Richard Meade of Pelzer; Hannah Rogers, daughter of Sheila and Keith Rogers of Williamston; Loren Blassingame, daughter of Anita and Brian Blassingame of Williamston and Dee Powell, daughter of Donna and Mark Powell of Williamston.
The Palmetto High School Student Government planned special Spirit Week events and festivities in preparation for Homecoming.
Events during the past week included a Midnight Movie last Friday at the football stadium, a car wash competition on Saturday, and games, food & fun at Palmetto High on Sunday. A worship service was held in the auditorium featuring speaker Joel Lopez of Williamston First Baptist and Stan Bray of Whitefield Baptist Church. The Whitefield Baptist Church Youth Praise Band provided music.
This week at Palmetto, students and faculty wore Mexican-style attire for Mexi-Monday and tropical costumes for Tropical Tuesday. A luau was held outside the Freshman Academy. There was also Wacky Wednesday.
On Thursday students can pay $5 to toilet paper and decorate their favorite teachers classroom and they can dress in togas to honor Ancient Greece. At 7 p.m., there will be a bonfire and pep rally in preparation for the big game on Friday night. On Friday, everyone is invited to come out and cheer on the Mustangs to a victory over the Chapman Panthers. Prior to the 7:30 p.m. kickoff, fans are encouraged to bring their food and tailgate with their friends and fellow students.
A portion of all money raised during Spirit Week will go towards an effort to help children from neglected and abused homes through Helping Hands of Clemson. Anyone who may be unable to attend any of these events but would still like to donate, please call the Palmetto High School office.
Williamston Councilman Marion Middleton, Jr., said that the forensic audit he has proposed would help end speculation and concerns citizens and councilmembers have about how the town got into the financial mess that it has been dealing with.
He said he believes council and citizens will support a proposed tax increase, if a followup audit is done to take a second look at some of the towns audits and certain other specific things.
There are still a lot of questions, Middleton said.
Middleton said he wants an auditor to come in and look at the overall general picture and look at several things and some council specifics.
Middleton said the outcome with be one of two things. Either the financial situation of the town came about because of stupid spending and waste or because there are some issues.
Middleton, and some town residents, believe a forensic audit, however in depth it is, will alleviate most of the concerns.
Either way it will be a help Middleton said.
Middleton said if the spending was stupid, Then we have to have policies and a way to prevent that from happening again.
Residents have expressed similar sentiments during recent council meetings.
Some have said that they would support a tax increase, but not as long as the current mayor remains in office. At least five have urged the mayor to resign.
Council made a similar statement recently, voting down a proposed 20 percent tax increase, even after the recommendation of the towns two primary financial advisors, Appalachian Council of Governments advisor Joe Newton and accountant Bob Daniel, who has helped the town work through the financial mess.
Middleton said that his main concern is the condition of the town. Even after all of the financial improvements that have been made, he said the chart of accounts still doesnt match with the budget, and that the numbers keep changing.
To get a handle on the spending, Council members recently began signing off on invoices and payments.
The Councilman said that even doing this, he still doesnt know where the town stands financially. According to Middleton, bills are overdue and are still being paid late. He said he recently signed off on one invoice from May.
Middleton stood by his motion to eliminate the position of town grant writer and consultant Rusty Burns and remove him from the town payroll, at least for now.
There still needs to be some cuts, he said. My main concern is that the town is here for the future, Middleton said.
He said another problem is there are no contracts or specifications for Burns position. Middleton pointed out the same is true for the auditor who has been working with the town through the financial ordeal.
According to Middleton, there is no contract or other official arrangement with accountant Bob Daniel.
Middleton said his goal is for council to get better numbers.
It has been very frustrating process for council and for citizens, Middleton said. We are focusing on more accountability and getting the numbers right.
Concerning a forensic audit, Middleton said Council members are seeking information about potential auditors who would take the job. Information is expected to be presented at the regular meeting of Council at 6 p.m. on October 2.
This is not a fishing expedition, it is a burial party. I want to end it and move on, Middleton said.
By Stan Welch
Phillip Clardys use of a dumpster provided by the Town to assist in his preparations to re-open his restaurant was not the result of special treatment, says the Mayor. He responded to questions from The Journal about whether he had paid for the use of the dumpster, which sat outside his business for several days before being removed by a Town truck.
No, I have not paid anything for the use of that dumpster. I called John Owen, as John Q. Citizen, and told him that I was not asking for anything as the Mayor. I told him what I was doing and asked him if I should just put everything at the end of the street where I usually did. He said it would be easier to just put a dumpster there instead of having to pick up all the bags.
According to Clardy, most of the waste was old canned goods that were disposed of. There was very little debris from the remodeling. We used most of the material in other places. Its the kind of thing we would do for any resident. It makes it easier on the crews to just pick up a dumpster, instead of piles of stuff that someone might create remodeling a room in their house.
Clardy said he would be glad to pay any cost for the dumpster, which he said was in place for a total of 4-5 days. It would be up to a Council member to calculate that since it would be a conflict of interest for me to get involved in that. The Town charges monthly, so I dont know how youd figure it.
Clardy said he didnt have a specific date but hoped to re-open in the next couple of weeks.
The service provided by the town appears to be in conflict with the towns policies. Due to cuts made by the The Town of Williamston earlier this year, trash pickup for businesses was eliminated in February. At that time the town announced that it will no longer pick up any commercial trash dumpsters. Businesses were told they must find a private hauler to provide the service. The town did decide to allow the pickup of up to three 32 gallon containers, but no dumpters. Council set a $25 monthly garbage pickup fee for businesses that wanted garbage pickup one time each week. Businesses that required two or more pickups per week were to pay $35 a month. The fee was eventually set at $30 due to problems with billing two fees.
Residential garbage collection was continued with the implementation of a $14 per month sanitation fee. The town also eliminated the curbside recycling program.
The Town of Pelzer has several projects underway including renovation of an area landmark, the Pelzer Gym.
The 102-year-old gym has a rich history of providing a place for the textile league basketball teams to practice and play during the heydey in the 1920s to the 50s. Today the gym is the home for a local basketball league and is used for other special events.
A new parking lot has replaced the old tennis court area next to the Pelzer Gym. Lines are being painted on the paved parking lot this week. The new parking area has spaces for 50 vehicles, Mayor Ken Davis said.
Other visible improvements include a metal decorative rail fencing that is being placed along the sidewalk on Main Street. Plans are for the fencing to extend from the gym to the post office building.
Sections of the fence can be purchased by area residents in honor or in memory of their loved ones, Mayor Davis said. Seven of the $200 sections have already been purchased honoring friends or loved ones. For each one purchased, a plaque will be placed on the section recognizing the person being honored, according to Davis.
Other improvements are either in process or planned for the gym. It has recently been repainted gray and red on the inside and is ready for the upcoming basketball season, Davis said, and signups for basketball will be announced within the next week.
The town has been awarded a $199,000 grant which will go toward additional renovations of the gym building, according to Davis.
Other plans for the building include replacing sheetrock and refinishing hardwood floors.
Davis also said there are plans in the works for a new Pelzer Rescue Squad building. If completed, a move would allow the town to move offices into the historic mill hospital building now occupied by the Pelzer EMS.
West Pelzer Town Council decided Tuesday to postpone making a decision on a proposed water and sewer rate increase despite recommendations by the Rural Water Development officials and their water supplier.
Council voted 4-1, with Mayor Peggy Paxton opposed, to table the decision until the regular meeting, October 9. The vote also postponed a decision on approving the 2006-2007 budget which was supposed to be approved by the end of June.
Paxton told Council that postponing the decision would mean the town will be another month behind in having enough money to pay the Greenville Water System bill.
Paxton said the increase was necessary to cover two rate increases by Greenville Water System which have been absorbed by the town.
The proposed water rate increase is to go from the current $12 to $14 on the first 1000 gallons and from $2.90 to $8.70 on the next 1000 gallons.
The proposal will also increase sewer rates to $18 on the first 1000 gallons and $6.75 on additional 1000 gallons.
Garbage rates are increased $1 to $4.50. The RDA charge of $4.50 and the DHEC fee of $1 will remain the same.
Councilman Pete Davis abstained from the vote, saying he would like to see an additional $1 added to help pay for repairs to reduce inflow and infiltration (I&I) problems the towns system has.
Paxton said that with the increases, she expects the water customers who use the minimum to see approximately a $5 increase in their monthly bills.
Councilmember Maida Kelly said she was concerned about the increase being too much for the senior residents of the town.
Several citizens asked questions and made comments about various related topics.
Paxton said that Rural Water Development and Greenville Water System have recommended that the rates be increased. The town has seen the 3 month water bill go from $16,000 to $26,000 as the result of periodic increases.
The last increase for the towns water rates was about 6 months ago. Prior to that, increases were approved in 2004 and 2001 for West Pelzer cutomers.
The 2004 increase was only for customers outside the town. It set their minimum rate at $63.50.
Paxton suggested Council could implement the rate increase now and reevaluate and readjust if necessary in two months.
There was additional discussion about the condition of the towns lines and the need for upgrades and repairs.
Councilman Marshall King said the town would have to make rate adjustments to meet expenses down the road. He also asked if grants could be used to help with necessary repairs on the towns lines.
Attorney Carey Murphy said the town is under a consent order to have the sewer lines upgraded and ready to go on the Western Carolina system.
It will cost more than you will be able to collect if you count on that. You better count on fines, he said. You cant be sure of getting grants to cover it, he said.
There was additional discussion of the I&I problem.
Murphy said that the town will still have to meet the requirements of Western Carolina before the system can be turned over to them and funding for upgrades cannot come out of the RDA grant.
I&I needs to be an ongoing project, he said. In two years it will cost more than now.
Water and Sewer department head Michael Mahaffey estimates that as much as 38 percent of the water being purchased from the Greenville Water system is being lost somewhere in the system.
There was also discussion of the rainwater and springs that are coming into the towns sewer system, creating the inflow and inflitration problem.
Paxton said that the budget she presented was based on an increase in the water and sewer rates. It also reflects an increase in the employee health insurance with decrease in travel and training, she said.
West Pelzer Town Council will hold a special called meeting Monday at 6 p.m. to appoint a 5th member to the planning commission and to determine the length of term. They will also make a recommendation to the zoning board of appeals. The meeting is tentatively set to be held at the West Pelzer Fire Department.
By Stan Welch
A meeting held Monday night to consider an exemption to the towns zoning ordinance accomplished nothing except to delay the opening of a small business in town by at least several weeks.
The public hearing, as it was announced, resulted in the motion to propose the exemption failing to receive a second. A subsequent motion by Councilman Joe Turner to table the proposal until a fifth member can be appointed to the Towns planning commission and the proper procedure followed for seeking such an exemption was approved by a vote of 4-1, with Mayor Paxton opposing.
Along the way, the two women who are hoping to open a small crafts store and teaching center were left shaking their heads. This is just some kind of power struggle over the planning commission. Its just too bad we are caught in the middle of it, said Sonya Pate, who along with Angie Craft is seeking to rezone the house at 81 Main Street from R-15 to NC or neighborhood commercial. Said Craft. We really like the town and dont want to sound mean. But if we were counting on this for our livelihood, we would have to sell and move on. This has been going on for months.
According to ACOG representatives, the meeting was improper anyway, since it did not receive the required public notice fifteen days before it occurred. Zoning issues require such notice; in this case the meeting was publicized for less than a week. ACOG representatives also stated that in order to vote on such an issue, the public hearing would have to be associated with a regular or called meeting of Council, so that, following the separately conducted public hearing, the other meeting could be reconvened and any necessary votes taken. No votes can be taken at a public hearing held outside the context of a meeting that allows votes. That would make the legality of the motion to table questionable.
The issue of a planning commission has been brewing for several months. ACOG director of government operations Joe Newton has advised the Town Council to reestablish and restructure their planning process. Howard Duvall of the Municipal Association of South Carolina has offered a similar opinion in recent months.
Town Councilman Joe Turners efforts to table the proposal Monday night were apparently spurred by those statements. Turner has attempted several times in recent weeks to secure the appointment of a fifth member of the planning commission. Mayor Paxton is expected to make that appointment. The Town will then have to establish a zoning board of appeals.
Those appointments had apparently been slated for the Monday night meeting, but apparently acting on information which indicated that conducting town business at a public hearing would be improper, the agenda was adhered to and the public hearing proceeded.
The Piedmont Public Service Board of Commissioners met Monday Sept. 18. Commissioner Al McAbee conducted the meeting in the absence of chair Marsha Rogers.
In old business, there was a brief discussion about taxes owed to the district by a local industry. District officials have been in contact with Greenville County officials about the delinquent taxes and are considering suing the county to get the money.
We need some answers, said Piedmont Fire District Administrator Butch Nichols. Nichols reported that the county had placed or lein on the property, and if the taxes were not paid by November, the county will place the building up for sale.
Nichols also reported that Anderson County is supposed to have ordered swings for the playground at the ballpark. Nichols also said that the District will soon be getting quotes through Jon Pruitt for cleaning and inspecting sewer lines.
In new business, there was some discussion on rates charged for the community building. Commissioner Frankie Garrett suggested the District obtain the cost per month for phone water, power and gas for commissioners to consider in setting rates. McAbee suggested getting quotes from Pelzer and Williamston for their rental rates.
Chief Nichols told commissioners he is considering having the annual Christmas supper catered this year.
There was some discussion about a recent accident, and several expenditures. No action was taken.
Commissioner Fred Glenn suggested the storage container at the ballfield needs painting.
McAbee reported the District responded to 43 calls in August. Calls included 6 structure fires, 1 grass fire, 5 vehicle accidents, 23 medical calls, 3 sewer calls, 2 street light calls and 3 other service calls. The District responded to 44 calls in July and 41 in June.
The District also has office space available for rent in the community building, Nichols said.
By Stan Welch
Reports that Anderson County Sheriffs department Chief Deputy Timothy Busha has had his drivers license suspended several times sent Chief Busha scurrying to find out what had happened to his driving record.
Contacted by The Journal for comment on the reports, Chief Busha, in a telephone interview Tuesday morning, expressed his bewilderment at the report of his suspension. That simply cant be right. I have never knowingly driven an automobile without insurance and I have never driven a vehicle under suspension, said Busha.
Busha vowed to contact the DMV and seek an explanation. The only thing I can think of that might have happened is this. My parents both died in recent years, and we kept insurance on the vehicles they had driven for several years. Then last year, we cancelled the insurance on both those vehicles. I remember my wife being upset with the DMV at the time. She handles those kinds of things for the household. Whether there is something to that I dont know. I do know that I have never been informed that my license was suspended, and as far as I know, I have never failed to maintain insurance on my vehicles. I still have insurance on the cars my wife, my daughter and I drive.
Busha contacted The Journal several hours later and reported that two of the notices of suspension were in fact related to the 2005 voluntary cancellation of coverage on his parents vehicles. We were never informed of those suspensions. We maintained the insurance on all the other vehicles we had. I dont understand what happened exactly. He went on to explain that a wire transfer to his insurance company in September was in fact applied to a separate policy he has on his motorcycle. That resulted in a pending suspension due to start on October 16. Busha says that notice appears twice on his DMV records. My question is why are they showing a suspension on my license that wouldnt even start for almost a month? This makes no sense.
Busha insists that neither he nor anyone in his family has ever received notification of any of the suspensions mentioned here. I would never knowingly fail to maintain insurance on any of my vehicles, and I certainly wouldnt drive on a suspended license.
How Busha received six suspensions without being notified, and continued not only to drive, but to drive a county police vehicle, remains unclear. Sheriff David Crenshaw did not return calls seeking comment on the reports.
Busha has been the source of controversy during the last few months, beginning with his March appearance before the Anderson County Council to proclaim that county administrator Joey Prestons well publicized late night Cater Lake rendezvous with a female county employee was, in fact, part of an undercover operation by the Sheriffs Office.
Bushas claims were met with skepticism by many, including radio talk show host Rick Driver, whose on air comments the following morning brought Busha storming into the studios while Driver was on the air. He told Driver that the Sheriffs Office would not tolerate any inference that there was anything improper about the reported investigation into the alleged stalking and harassment of Preston. Based on subsequent calls to the station, many of Drivers listeners considered Bushas appearance as an attempt at intimidation.
Despite Bushas claims of video, audio and written evidence of those charges, no arrests have been made, though both Busha and Sheriff Crenshaw maintain that the investigation, which is almost a year old now, is ongoing. SLED, which reportedly has taken the case over, has made no arrests either.
More recently, Busha has challenged the medias right to access to details about the firing of four officers at the Anderson County Detention Center. Busha was quoted in the Anderson Independent Mail as saying that the Sheriffs Office would not be intimidated into providing information the release of which is not required by law. Jay Bender, attorney for the South Carolina Press Association and the Anderson Independent Mail, has stated that the details of those disciplinary firings are indeed public information.
The Sheriffs Office subsequently announced that any further questions by the media be submitted in writing.
By Stan Welch
A general obligation bond to borrow $7.3 million to relocate government offices was the focus of attention at Tuesday nights County Council meeting.
A public hearing on the matter drew a long line of speakers, both in support of and opposition to the proposal. The funds would be used to purchase and renovate the old Kroger building on River Street and move many of the Countys offices to the new facility. Some state offices would then be relocated to existing county office space. An addition to the detention center would also be included in the proposal.
One of those who spoke in opposition was County Auditor Jacky Hunter, who expressed concerns about the safety of the location, as well as other concerns, such as the scattering of county offices across a larger area. He also questioned the $1.3 million purchase price, which he said was too high. He asked that council table the proposal and study it further.
Also speaking to Council was Michael Pavey, representative for the owners of the old Carolina First Building . Pavey said that the former bank building could be purchased for $1.7 million in its current condition, or for $3.7 million fully renovated for county use.
Those speaking in favor of the Kroger purchase stressed the need for an economic shot in the arm for the neighborhood where the building is located, as well as the fact that there is much more parking than at other alternative sites, including the McCants building.
Councilwoman Cindy Wilson expressed her support for the revitalization of the area, but questioned the details of the deal. She questioned the cost, saying that the Kroger building had previously been available for less than half the current price. She also asked about Marshall Carithers involvement in the deal. Carithers, whom Wilson has called the county realtor in the past, also served as consultant on a controversial land purchase in the Powdersville area last year. Wilson, in fact, claims that the 2005-2006 budget ordinance made courthouse security a priority; a priority which was ignored in order to make that Powdersville purchase.
She questioned Carithers performance, saying I think were getting cheated a bit here. I dont think hes getting us a very good deal. Chairman Greer later told Wilson that if there was documentation supporting the lower sales price that she should produce it.
Councilwoman Wilson and County Administrator Joey Preston jousted several minutes over various details of the deal, including Carithers involvement. Preston defended the proposal, saying that a complete analysis of the various alternatives had been conducted. We looked at the Carolina First building. I like the building, but it simply doesnt work for what we are trying to do, said Preston.
He also called purchasing director Robert Carroll to the podium to report to Wilson that Carithers represented the seller, and not the buyer. We did not hire Mr. Carithers, said Carroll.
Wilson asked Preston when the property was put under contract, since the Council had not yet given second reading approval. Preston replied that the property was not under contract, to which Wilson replied by reading a portion of the appraisal document which stated, It is our understanding that this property is under contract for $1.3 million. The appraisal was for $1.4 million. Wilson asked for a complete copy of the document, and Chairman Greer instructed that she receive one.
Following considerable debate and discussion, the bond ordinance received second reading approval by a vote of 6-1, with Wilson opposing.
In other business, Wilson sought a resolution requesting that the state prohibit trucks of six or more wheels on Youth Center Road, which is frequently used by garbage trucks on their way to Anderson Regional Landfill.
She stated that Allied Waste, Inc. which operates the landfill, had agreed during the facility issues negotiations (FIN) process with area residents, that Youth Center Road would net be used by trucks in route to the landfill.
County Solid Waste Director Vic Carpenter stated that the County has no authority to enforce that prohibition. It is a private agreement without any teeth. The County has no authority here.
Wilson was also told that the state maintains that road and that while the County Sheriff could enforce the prohibition, it was unlikely that they would choose to do so. Following further discussion, Wilson tabled her request until further information can be gathered.
Anderson County Sheriffs Deputies investigated a number of incidents in the area recently including thefts, fights, and a drug related incident.
Sept. 12 M.J. Burns responded to 312 Kirby Road, where he was informed of the theft of a 1979 Harley Davidson 1200 FXS motorcycle belonging to Tracy Owens. The cycle was gray and black with orange striping on the fenders. The bike was valued at $9500.
Sept. 15 J.C. Moore received a complaint of assault and battery from Serafin Flores, of 117 Clearview Rd. He stated that his son, Pasqual Flores, WM, 35, 510", 160 lbs. Blk.brn, had threatened to kill him. He called his other son, Flavio Flores, WM, 6, 200 lbs., who came over. Pasqual reportedly attacked his brother, hitting him several times. Flavio apparently got the best of it, though. Pasqual received a split lip from a punch. He was arrested for assault and transported to ACDC.
Sept. 15 R. D. McElrath responded to 101Longshore Dr., Lot 12 where he received a complaint of assault and trespass after notice. Ray Bell reported that his ex girlfriend had come to the house and assaulted him. The suspect, Lynn Hannah, 33, WF, 57", 135 lbs., brn.blue. was located under the bed in the residence and arrested and taken to ACDC.
Sept. 17 J. R. McClellan responded to 3201 Hwy. 29N where David Vandiver, of Seawell Golf Range, reported the theft of a Massey Ferguson tractor valued at $8000.
Sept.15 D.W. Davis received a report of grand larceny from Rhonda Carter, who reported that a five by twelve utility trailer had been stolen from the location. Several bags of cement mix and some cement blocks were also taken. The trailer was valued at $1500.
Sept. 15 T. B. Dugan responded to Big Daddys Towing, where Travis Carter reported that he was searching a towed vehicle for a contact phone number when he found a tin box containing a number of empty plastic baggies, 4 syringes and two vials. One vial was filled with a clear liquid, which Dugan believed to be heroin. While at the scene, David Wright, WM, 29, 63", 225 lbs. and Misty Gasparovic, WF, 29, 58", 150 lbs., both of Greenville, appeared to claim some property from the vehicle. Both denied any knowledge of the drugs. Dugan determined that neither had a drivers license. He also ran the tag and found the vehicle was stolen. He also discovered a firearm in the vehicle, and found that Wright was a convicted felon, prohibited from possessing a firearm. Both were arrested and taken to ACDC.
Sept. 15 A. D. Hendrix responded to 2507 River Road where he was informed by Ty Simmons that Simmons red and gray Suzuki Katana 750 motorcycle had been stolen. It had SC tag # ZJ0441 on it.
Sept.15 M. A. Whitfield received a report of grand larceny of a motor vehicle from Eugene Green Jr., who reported that his 2003 Monte Carlo with SC tag #192UXB had been stolen from the Pilot Gas Station on Hwy. 86.
Sept. 16 M. A. Whitfield observed a vehicle run a stop sign at Moore Road and Hwy. 8 at approximately 50 mph. He pursued and speeds passed 100 mph. The driver, Walter Evatt, WM, 20,511", 145 lbs., of 918 River Road in Piedmont stopped. He was arrested for failure to stop for blue lights and reckless driving. Two passengers were released at the scene.
Sept. 6 R. S. Turner investigated a complaint of petit larceny at 104 Old Field Circle, where Robert Westbrook reported that he had returned home after a weeks absence and found several coins missing from his closet. Reports state his son had had several people in the house while he was gone.
Sept. 8 A. Digirolamo responded to a report of an argument on Joe Black Rd. While at the scene he arrested Larry Briggs for drunk and disorderly conduct after warning him several times to be quiet. Briggs, WM, 44, 510", 165 pounds, brn/green, was transported to the county detention center.
By Stan Welch
The South Carolina House Legislative Ethics Committee has ordered local talk radio host Rick Driver to stop questioning their decision concerning a complaint Driver sent to the Committee earlier this year.
The complaint involved State Representative John L. Scotts sponsorship of a bill which provided members of the S.C. State Guard with a tax exemption. Scott is a member of the State Guard, a mostly ceremonial unit made up of military veterans as well as citizens who never served in the military.
Driver sent a letter to the House Ethics Committee questioning the propriety of Scotts sponsoring of a bill from which he stood to benefit. The bill, HB 3580, provides for a tax deduction for members of the State Guard who receive certain levels of training during the year. As a Major in the State Guard, Scott could receive that exemption, which amounts to $3000 annually and is retroactive to the year 2004.
The House Committee, however, found that Scott had committed no breach of ethics in sponsoring the bill. Driver was informed of the Committees ruling in a letter dated August 29, 2006. Driver, the general manager of WAIM-AM 1230 Radio, has questioned that decision several times on the air, as have a number of callers to the program.
In a letter dated September 5, and signed by the Committees chairman, Roland Smith Driver was ordered to cease and desist making public statements about the committees handling of the complaint. The letter states, Your actions violate South Carolina law, the Rules of the House of Representatives, and the House Legislative Ethics Committee rules.
The letter goes on to say that the release of confidential information is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to one thousand dollars and a years imprisonment. Driver, in an interview with The Journal, said, I didnt realize it was such a confidential matter to review the correspondence that I had with the Committee, and they had with me. A gag order seems to me to be a violation of free speech.
The Committee, according to minutes of the meeting which are presumably not confidential, went into executive session immediately after convening to consider Drivers complaint against Scott. Scott, who serves as treasurer of the House Ethics Committee, did not attend the executive session, though he was present at the meeting.
In his original complaint, Driver raised several issues, connecting Scotts relationship with Anderson County as a mass transit consultant to his personal relationship with Anderson county administrator, Joey Preston, who is also a member of the State Guard.
In a response to the Committee dated March 28, 2006, Driver states, According to local information, Rep. Scott has been paid almost $100,000 by his friend and fellow Guard member, Anderson County Administrator Joey R. Preston. The payments have been made to Rep. Scott while he serves as a consultant on mass transit matters in Anderson County. I have concluded through limited research that Rep. Scott has no formal training which qualifies him to act as a consultant on matters of mass transit.
Driver, in a recent interview, said, I dont need to discuss the actual proceedings of the Committee, which speak for themselves. But I do think that any reasonable person sees a conflict of interest in this case. Im not done with that yet. I talked about it on the air this week, and I will do so again.
By Stan Welch
Well, its been an interesting week in Williamston. A town council that, with one exception, was part and parcel of creating the towns financial problems, decided to get rid of the accountant who helped them forge an almost miraculous recovery from those problems. Now, Bob Daniel was no supporter of Mayor Clardy; in fact, he was former Mayor Marion Middletons personal accountant for years. But he had the audacity to do two things. He failed to call the mayor a thief, and he dared to call for a tax increase for the first time in thirteen years.
He didnt call the mayor a thief for a pretty good reason; he found no evidence that theft took place. He did say the Mayor had made terrible mistakes and had mismanaged the towns money to the point of bringing the town to the brink of dissolution. Apparently, that wasnt enough for a crowd that would make the Romans in the Coliseum seem like pacifists.
He did call for a millage increase for the first time in over a decade because the unprecedented implementation of sanitation fees, while resulting in a tremendous increase in revenues, also restricted the use of those revenues to only expenses related to the sanitation department. All that money, and nothing that can be done with it, except to buy more garbage trucks. Maybe they can put blue lights on top and use them for police cars too.
Then, on a motion by the lone newcomer to the Council, the Council decided to authorize a forensic audit, at a cost of ten thousand dollars. And why not? Thats less than a months worth of leachate from the landfill. Im sure the folks in Gatewood are happy to help out their neighbors in Shorebrook.
Then, as an addendum to the motion to seek a forensic audit, (Williamston CSI, Tuesday nights at 6 p.m.!) it was decided to fund this exhaustive search by firing the towns grant consultant, Rusty Burns; even though he is hands down the best in Anderson County at what he does, and despite the fact that the Town is currently seeking grants and other sources of revenue for various projects. For example, the upgrades on the wastewater treatment plant so that the town can handle more leachate from the landfill come to mind.
Nevertheless, the ten thousand dollars for the audit was secured. The only problem is that even in the world of small town politics, the rule that you get what you pay for still applies. And in the world of accounting, ten thousand dollars doesnt get you much. Apparently, that fact has belatedly dawned on members of the Council. One of them was heard to say on a local talk radio show that the goal now is to have an auditor review the last several years worth of audits.
Well, were getting farther and farther from any useful purpose or wise use of that ten thousand dollars. Now, the money is going to be spent on reviewing past audits? What exactly will that achieve, except give a local auditor a revenue boost of his own? At a competitive rate of say, a hundred bucks an hour, that comes to a hundred hours, or two and a half work weeks to be spent reviewing these audits. Please tell me theres a better plan than that.
Williamstons circumstances remind me a bit of the movie Perfect Storm, where all the conditions came together at the exact right moment to create the perfect storm. Except in this case, it created the perfect mess. A long time mayor, whose cavalier use of federal funds coincided with his failure to see that they would dry up some day, was ousted by a young go getter who turned out to be unprepared to do the job. Mayor Clardy hired people and started projects and just generally did what he pleased, while the Town Council eased along and let him take the lead. Staff mushroomed, taxes stayed flat, services were provided by the Town at little or not cost, and boom! One day the Town is in precarious financial condition. Add to the list of converging factors the finger pointing and blame practiced by both sides, in place of leadership, and voila! Williamston, 2006!
Still the argument can be made, and defended, that the town and its citizens got what they deserved. Indifference and nonchalance, seasoned with small town politics and factions, more often than not results in a stew that is hard to swallow.
Rusty Burns has made his living as a grant writer and government consultant for a lot of years. He understands the game, and knows that the tides of such a sea as he sails change with little warning. He took his fate in stride and offered no complaint.
But it seems to me that of those who performed their duties with neutrality and professionalism, Bob Daniel and Joe Newton, deserved better than to be ignored when the time came for decision making. The insult offered to both, iced though it was with saccharin gratitude, speaks poorly for those who chose to follow their own ambitions instead.