News Archive

(4205) Week of Oct. 19, 2005

Week of Oct. 19, 2005

County officials announce plans for Powdersville government center
Piedmont considering park improvements, fee increases
Family returns to New Orleans
Aspiring doctor finds out what it’s like in the trenches
AA bond rating highest for county
Development, zoning discussed by County
Greenville County official seeking info with FOI

 

County officials announce plans for Powdersville government center

By Stan Welch

A bevy of local officials were on hand in Powdersville  Monday as plans for a new library and government center were revealed.

Plans include an 18,000 square foot building which will house a new 12,000 square foot library, as well as a magistrate’s court and offices, a branch of the treasurer’s office, a building and codes office and other government  offices.

The library expansion will allow an increase in the number of books available from 15,000 to possibly 40,000. Councilman Bill Dees, as well as various other officials, lauded the cooperative effort needed to make the project a reality. The Cely family, as well as the Powdersville Water District, contributed to the consolidation of properties that allowed for a large enough parcel to be created.

The Water District donated approximately 1.8 acres. Board chairman Norman Steeber said that the Board was committed to the project. “This gives Powdersville a sense of identity, a central location that gives us focus. We gave the land to make it possible for the main entrance to be placed on Circle Drive, instead of Highway 81. In exchange, the County offered to extend the infrastructure servicing the facility to allow the future development of the Water District property.”

 

Dees said that unit was a great day for Powdersville. He spoke of the Cely family’s long history in the area, and their long tradition of public service. “This was one of my dreams when I was first elected to the Anderson County Council. It is such an important addition to this community.”

 

Anderson County Administrator Joey Preston, on hand with several members of his staff, said that future plans for the Powdersville area will be announced in a week or ten days.

Apparently, he was referring to plans for a 47 acre tract along the Saluda River purchased earlier this year. Several Council members have stated they did not specifically vote to approve such a purchase. Preston has said that the tract’s purchase was authorized by the Council’s approval of a $7.35 million general bond issue last fall. Questions remain however, since the purposes of the GO bond which were listed at the time seem to have been largely satisfied by this week’s announcement. Since the bonds were only recently sold, questions also remain about the source of the funds which were used to purchase the land in April.

Those purposes included the construction of a new library and a recycling center. 

Carl Stone, director of the Anderson County Library System, said the Powdersville facility is the culmination of 31 years of planning and building libraries throughout the county. “This was once a stopping point for the bookmobile. Soon it will be a great new facility. “

The cost of construction is estimated at $2.5 million. The Greenville architectural firm of Craig, Gaulden, & Davis designed the facility. Preston said that bids will be let within 60 days, and will be awarded in March of 2006. “The contractor selected will have 1 year to complete the job from the day he signs the contract,” said Preston.

State Senator Kevin Bryant was on hand to offer his congratulations. State Representative Dan Cooper sent his regrets and congratulations in the form of a letter read by Preston.

 

Piedmont considering park improvements, fee increases

During their regular monthly meeting Monday, members of the Piedmont Public Service District Board of Commissioners discussed fees, taxes and payments.

Before getting into the agenda items, there was some discussion about miscommunication after which Chair Marsha Rogers said Commissioners would be issued a pager and contacted through Piedmont Fire Dispatch in the future.

Rogers said that the pager will vibrate and can accept a text message and a followup call will be made from the fire department should a Commissioner need to be contacted.

Commissioner Frankie Garrett said that he had not been contacted about a decision and that a special meeting should have been held. Rogers said she attempted to contact all Commissioners about the decision.

Commissioner  Rudy Rhodes said he did not want to carry a pager.

Administrator Butch Nichols told Commissioners a lawyer was checking into a situation in which assessed tax money was not being paid to the District. The District is providing fire and medical services to the industry which is located within the district.

Rogers also asked Commissioners for suggestions for improvements at the ballpark which will be paid by a $17,000 recreation grant the District will receive.

Items discussed include playground equipment, swings, a picnic shelter, a steel storage trailer, a horseshoe venue, and possibly a basketball goal. Some grading was also mentioned. No action was taken.

Al McAbee reported the District responded to a total of 40 calls during September.

Included were 4 structure fire calls, 6 grass fires, 1 vehicle fire, 4 vehicle accidents, 20 medical, 1 electrical, and 4 sewer calls.

Nichols reported that a church renting a room at the Community Building will relocate to the old magistrates office, which will be rented for $300 per month. The church will also be responsible for heating and electrical costs for the office.

McAbee reported that the woodcarvers were “really pleased” with their recent show held at the Community Building. “They had a real good turnout with a good crowd for both days,” McAbee said.

The Woodcarver’s club currently meets in the Rowell Club Room of the building.

Nichols suggested that commissioners look at fees being charged by the District, which he said have not been adjusted in more than 13 years. The topic was tabled for discussion at the next meeting.

Nichols announced a Christmas supper for District personnel to be held Saturday Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.

 In new business, Commissioner Garrett asked for explanations on several expenditures made during September. District Secretary Craig Lawless explained the expenditures.

Chair Rogers stated that Commissioners and the public were welcome to see any information or questions they may have about the District operations at anytime. “We have an open door policy,” she said.

After some discussion about sewer charges, Nichols told Commissioners “If we are going to keep sewer flowing, people are going to have to pay to keep it flowing. There is coming a time when something is going to have to be done,” Nichols said.

The next meeting of the Piedmont Public Service District Board of Commissioners will be held on Monday Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. There will be no meeting in December.

Family returns to New Orleans

By Stan Welch

Three New Orleans families which found their way to West Pelzer as they fled Hurricane Katrina have returned home to try and rebuild. The trip and the challenges that face them were both made easier with assistance from the people of West Pelzer, Pelzer, and Piedmont.

On October 3, Mike Mahaffey and Mayor Peggy Paxton accompanied the Easley, Estorge, and Maillho families to their new home in Manderville, on the eastern shore of Lake Pontchartrain. They pulled a twelve foot trailer packed with furniture and housekeeping supplies to help the Easley and Estorge families settle into a two bedroom apartment they were lucky enough to find. The Maillho family will join New Orleans fireman and father Paul Maillho, on board a cruise ship brought in to provide housing for firefighters, police, and other emergency service providers.

The families fled their New Orleans homes the day before Katrina came ashore, and spent two weeks with friends elsewhere in Louisiana, before coming to West Pelzer to stay with family. Their situation was made more difficult by the condition of Bryan Easley, who suffers from a rare disease, called Fabry’s disease. His return home was made much easier by the Pelzer Rescue squad, which transported him in an ambulance, staffed by two drivers and two paramedics. He has since resumed the special treatments for his condition, treatments which are only available at a few medical facilities.

In addition to the furniture and other supplies, a raffle, a hot dog sale, and collections taken by firemen at the red light in Piedmont raised more than $500 in cash. Only the two fathers, Maillho and Teddy Estorge, are employed. Barbara Easley and her daughter Marnie Estorge, lost their child care business when their homes were flooded.  Pictures taken by Mahaffey show mold growing everywhere in the homes, and water marks within two feet of the ceilings.

Paxton said that the destruction and desolation of the area was sobering. “It was so weird to walk around such a large city, and see almost no one. Everyone who was there was cleaning up or rebuilding.” A 6 p.m. curfew remains in place.

Mahaffey says that the empty streets also made an impression on him. “It was a great experience, but it’s not something you can understand just from seeing it on TV. You just couldn’t imagine how bad it is. You see areas on TV and you think it’s just that area that’s torn up, but it’s entire cities. It’s just unbelievable.”

Paxton says the worst part was being with the families when they first  saw their homes. “That really hurt, but I think they were glad to have someone besides family there to talk to. These folks have lost everything, but they want to start over. Personally, I don’t see why anybody would want to go back to that.”

Mahaffey has kept in touch with the Maillho children via the internet. He says they seem to be doing well. “I think it really helped them to all get back together as a family. I’m just glad we could help.”

Aspiring doctor finds out what it’s like in the trenches

October 5, 2005 marks 56 years of serving medical needs of area residents for Dr. Dwight H. Smith and in addition to celebrating this milestone, the local “hometown doctor” had the opportunity to share his offices this week with his grandson, Jeffrey Preston Smith, who is following in his footsteps in the medical profession.

“It is a real honor and pleasure to have my grandson with me this week,” Dr. Smith said.

Jeffery Smith is a senior medical student at Texas Tech in Lubbock Texas.

He had the opportunity to come to the area as part of a four month elective course which allows medical students to participate in a specialty anywhere in the country.

Smith chose to work one month in Charlottesville, Va. and one month here in the upstate with AnMed Hospital System and Anmed Family Practice in Williamston.

The opportunity has also allowed him to work the early morning hours at his grandfather’s practice on Williams St., “working in the trenches,” as the elder Dr. Smith calls it.

Planning to go into physical medicine and rehabilitation, the younger Smith said his interest in the medical profession began with the experiences he had during summers spent in Williamston with his grandparents.

“His interaction with patients turned me on to medicine,” Smith said about the times spent earlier in life with his grandfather.

“It seems he could to anything. He could treat about anything.” Smith said he was also impressed with  the longstanding relationship his grandfather had with his patients. “The continuity I really like. His patients seem like friends. It is not the typical in and out.”

One thing that stands out for Smith is that his grandfather is well known, not only in Williamston, but in Anderson.

“Everyone knows him,” Smith said about his grandfather. While working with AnMed in Anderson he found there are also a lot of ties to the area. “Everyone has ties to Williamston.”

He said he has  also enjoyed working with Drs. Dorton and Roehrs at the AnMed Family Practice in Williamston.  “I like it,” he said. “The doctors are great.”

But it is the time spent with his grandfather that he has appreciated most. “He goes so out of his way to teach and show me what a small town practice is like,” Smith said.

The younger Smith said he hopes to learn more about some of the famous (or infamous) medicinal specialties offered to patients by his grandfather.

The special concoctions, salves and other things such as the infamous nasal machine are things that Smith said he has heard about and some he has seen first hand. “He knows a lot of tricks that I’ve never seen before.”

The younger Smith said that the practice of medicine in small towns has changed and that many small towns now have access to facilities in nearby larger towns. But as far as the small town doctor, Smith said, “there is still a demand for them.”

Smith will graduate Medical School in 2006 and that will be followed with 4 years of residency, probably somewhere in the Southeast.

He is currently studying to be a medical doctor at Texas Tech University Health Science Center School of Medicine. He has a M. B. A in Health Organization Management and a B. S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Management with a minor in Biology.

He has received several graduate and undergraduate honors including Beta Gamma Sigma Business honor society, Sigma Iota Epsilon Management Honor Society, Phi Kappa Phi Senior Honor Society, Gamma Sigma Delta Agricultural Honor Society, National Dean’s List and numerous academic scholarships. He is also an Eagle Scout.

He calls Houston home. It is where his parents Preston and ? live.  He has one younger sister.

His father attended Palmetto High School where he played quarterback and defensive tackle for the Mustangs for three years. He went on to serve ten years as Inspector General of NASA in Houston, from which he recently retired.

Smith said he has enjoyed his time in Williamston.

“I have enjoyed being here. People are really friendly,” Smith said. “I hope to get back sometime.”

AA bond rating highest for county

By Stan Welch

The answers to questions raised about Anderson County’s past and current bond ratings appear to support staffers’ claims that the County’s ratings have never been higher; at least not within the last five years.

Anderson County recently achieved a AA bond rating from industry authority Standard and Poor’s (S&P) rating service. That upgrade from an existing AA- rating was touted by County Administrator Joey Preston as a major contributing factor to the County’s receiving a very favorable interest rate on their recent sale of $7.35 million in general obligations bonds. The rate offered by Wachovia was 3.416%.

Questions about the latest bond rating were raised, most notably by Councilwoman Cindy Wilson, a long time skeptic concerning the County’s fiscal policies under Preston’s administration. At the October 4 County Council meeting, after Preston had expounded on the new credit rating, Wilson stated that she seemed to recall a AAA bond rating the County had obtained several years earlier. She reported that she had in fact contacted S&P officials to confirm that rating. She intimated that the recent AA rating was in fact a downgrade from the previous AAA status.

Her remarks clearly angered both Preston and County Attorney Tom Martin, who works for the same firm that serves as the County’s bond attorney, The McNair Law Firm. Martin vehemently and repeatedly denied that the County had ever suffered a downgrade of their bond rating. He strongly suggested that Ms. Wilson address any further bond questions to him, and not contact outside sources of information.

 He conceded that Anderson County had in fact issued a AAA rated bond at one point in the past, but had attained that rating through the purchase of bond insurance, which enhances the marketability of any given bond issue.

A subsequent search of the South Carolina Association of Counties’ (SCAC) website reflected a Standard & Poor bond rating of AA as of fiscal year 2002, a fact which would indicate that Anderson County had indeed been downgraded to AA-. Further investigation, however, revealed otherwise.

 Records maintained by both the S.C. Office of the Treasurer and SCAC indicated that the County’s S&P rating has been AA- for the last five years. Their rating by Moody’s, another widely respected rating service, had also been consistent.

SCAC Assistant Administrator Kathleen Williams explained how the discrepancy occurred.  “We compile information from various sources in preparing our county profiles, which we maintain online. Anderson County recently informed us of their bond rating upgrade and asked that it be reflected in their profile. We made the requested change. But the date 2002 reflects the latest report of the County’s bond rating we have received from the state treasurer’s office. It could certainly make it seem as if the AA rating had been in place since then, but that is not the case. It was only recently obtained.”

Williams said that the state treasurer’s office is often at least a year or a year and a half behind current events, adding that bond ratings can also change frequently. “The State Treasurer’s Office only publishes their report annually, as do several other government and industry sources that we use in compiling our profiles. So it is certainly not an exact science when we do these things.”

Subsequent research also supports Preston’s claim that the County’s bond rating, which is essentially their credit rating, has also improved significantly during his controversial tenure as County Administrator. According to Williams, at the SCAC, the County’s ratings for FY1996, which was the year Preston assumed his duties in Anderson County, were A (S&P) and A (Moody’s).

Questions concerning the $7.35 million bond issue remain, however. The bonds, which were approved in October of 2004, were not sold until just weeks ago. In April of this year, however, a 47+ acre tract of land was purchased by the County along the Saluda River, reportedly for construction of a Powdersville library and recycling/education center. Since the purchase of the land preceded the sale of the bonds by several months, the question of where the funds came from for the purchase remains unanswered. Five of the Council members recalled no specific vote authorizing the $527,620 purchase. The other two members declined to comment.

When asked by Wilson about that transaction at the last Council meeting, Preston abruptly refused to discuss it, saying that negotiations for additional land purchases in the area were underway.

Councilman Bill Dees, who represents the district in question, has refused to comment on the purchase or its possible intended use. A press conference was scheduled for Monday, October 17 to announce the construction of the Powdersville library and government center. That project is located on a site adjacent to the Powdersville Water Company. The property in question is located several miles away, on the banks of the Saluda River.

Development, zoning discussed by County

By Stan Welch

The Anderson County Council had an uneventful meeting Tuesday night, disposing of a two page agenda in just under two hours. The items dealt with included unanimous approval of several first readings for ordinances dealing with subjects ranging from roads to infrastructure considerations for area businesses. Second reading approval was given to two zoning changes, including one  which would rezone a 4 acre tract from C-3 commercial to RM, residential multi-family. The change, if given third reading approval, will allow for the construction of luxury condominiums in the $200-300,000 price range.

Several people spoke in support of the change, including the buyer, the seller and the developer of the property. No one opposed it, though several area residents did so at an earlier public hearing. One supporter pointed out that both the citizens’ advisory committee and the planning and zoning board recommended the change.

District 7 Councilwoman Cindy Wilson raised several questions, but agreed to contact the developers prior to the next reading to get answers.

Dyke Spencer, manager of the Powdersville Water District appeared before Council seeking their “blessing” for an emergency drought response plan that the District has drawn up and approved. “This plan was adopted a year and a half before I came to Powdersville Water District, and it includes some rather severe measures that might have to be put in place. My Board of Directors and I would both be much more comfortable if we had your blessings.”

Spencer added one reason for seeking council’s support is the fact that “By the time we put the most extreme measures in place, law enforcement will likely be an issue.”

During the Council members’ individual remarks, Wilson asked once again about the 47 acres the County has purchased along the Saluda River in Powdersville. She again asked for information concerning who the broker was and what the land was bought for. Once again, her questions went unanswered.

The usual videotaping of the Council meeting didn’t take place, as the camera was removed just prior to the meeting. Chairperson Gracie Floyd cited technical difficulties and the lack of spare equipment as the reasons for the problem.

Greenville County official seeking info with FOI request

By Stan Welch

A Greenville County Councilman, faced with Freedom of Information  issues very similar to those faced by Anderson County District 7 Councilwoman Cindy Wilson, took a very different slant on the subject recently.

Tony Trout, a first term member of the Greenville County Council, says he had been asking for information from County Administrator Joe Kernell for weeks; information concerning the County’s legal expenses incurred defending lawsuits brought by contractors who had been denied County road contracts, despite being the low bidder.

Wilson has been embroiled in a legal fight with the County and Administrator Joey Preston for several years, seeking access to legal vendor files. That wrangle has been expanded to settle the issue of Wilson’s right to see routine financial records of the county; records Preston refuses to provide in a timely manner.

While Wilson has pursued her goal through use of the Freedom of Information Act’s (FOIA) civil law provisions, Trout took a more direct approach. The FOIA provides for criminal penalties, as well. Trout sought the advice of a magistrate in determining what would be required to obtain a warrant for Kernell’s arrest.

Trout, in an interview with The Journal said that he was merely gathering information about his options. The magistrate, however, notified the media of the possible arrest, and as Trout said, “It got blown out of proportion from there on.”

Wilson, meanwhile, has filed a motion for a writ of mandamus, an extreme solution under American jurisprudence. The writ of mandamus is designed to cut through legal maneuverings and questions and bring a given situation to a conclusion of some sort. Despite Wilson’s attorney’s efforts to exempt the matter from time consuming mediation, mediation is exactly what Judge Buddy Nicholson Jr. suggested, several weeks after the motion for the writ was heard in his court early this year.

Trout’s consideration of the use of the criminal provisions of the FOIA had a much more salubrious  result. Kernell announced that he had released the information on Friday of the week during which Trout researched the legal remedies. Monday, Oct. 10 was a holiday, and no mail was delivered. Trout’s packet was sent registered mail; other Council members and media received their packets on Friday, according to Trout. No warrant was sought.

Trout says he got “sick and tired of not getting the simplest things. Then, the more I got into the meat and potatoes of the County’s workings, they would ignore me. Then when I asked again, they would play dumb and act like they had forgotten what I had asked for. I decided to find out if the FOIA had any bite to it.”

Trout says a couple of his fellow Councilmen support him fairly well. “The rest say ‘We’re behind you, Tony.’But when you look back, they’re way behind you,” said Trout. Wilson says she knows that feeling. “A simple majority vote by the Council would force Mr. Preston to release the information, but they won’t even bring the question to the floor. This fight continues to cost me and the county money, but I’m entitled to that information, just like any other citizen of the county.”

Wilson points out that both former SC Attorney General Charles Condon and current Attorney General Henry McMasters have issued rulings in her favor. Preston, in the absence of Council’s directions otherwise, continues to ignore those rulings. Trout echoes Wilson’s determination to win out in the end. “I have a few more FOI requests I plan to hit him with. This is all public information, and I will get it,” said Trout.

Greenville County officials wasted little time in striking back at Trout. The Clerk to County council reported that he had repeatedly threatened and intimidated her. She also reported several expense account items submitted which the County had questioned.

Meanwhile, efforts by Wilson’s attorneys to depose Preston and County Finance Director Rita Davis continue, with the latest attempt scheduled for later this month. Several previous attempts have failed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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