County in Review 2011 . . .

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By Stan Welch

This is a compilation of some of the most important stories of the year 2011, concerning county government, politics and finances.

JANUARY

The Anderson County Council retained its leadership intact, returning Tommy Dunn to the Chairman’s seat, and Eddie Moore to the Vice chairman’s role. Moore was elected over Tom Allen in a 4-3 vote.

They then moved quickly and smoothly through a substantial but organized agenda, with perhaps the key action being third reading approval of an ordinance that would once again allow Council members to disburse funds individually for infrastructure projects, rather than having the transportation department prioritize and allocate the funds.

An early January storm dumped several inches of snow on the Upstate and cold temperatures kept it there for sometime, leading to a major effort by emergency preparedness and road crews

At their January 19 meeting, the Anderson County Council began adjusting its role in the disposition of county property in the future by giving first reading approval to an ordinance that would require that they be given prior notice and right of approval before any county property is sold.

In a bravura command performance before the Anderson County Finance Committee on January 25, State Senator John Scott (D-Lexington) mixed a rapid fire delivery with a shower of numbers and statistics as he reported on what his consulting firm has accomplished as the County’s mass transit consultants. The occasion was the first time Scott had appeared before any County Council in at least five years, to report on his efforts and their results.

Scott, whose company, C&S Consulting, Inc., has served as the county’s consulting firm on mass transit issues since he was certified as a federal contractor in 2003, was asked to come and report on his efforts on the counties behalf. Scott was paid between $65,000 and $80,000 a year from 2003 till 2008, according to documents obtained published by The Journal.

The Anderson County Council restored the individual paving accounts for each individual Council member.

FEBRUARY

The Anderson County Council ratified two recommendations from its finance committee. One was to pay the invoices submitted by the Talon Group for its investigation into the former administration and its actions, as well as into the events of November 18, 2008.

The other recommendation was to honor the contract with Senator John Scott, C&S Consulting, Inc.

Following an executive session to receive legal advice, the County Council voted unanimously to authorize counsel to seek a settlement with Greenpointe, LLC, which owns and operates the C&D landfill in the Three and Twenty area. The landfill has been the object of controversy for the last several years.

Attorneys for Anderson County filed a motion for summary judgment in the County’s lawsuit with Michael Cunningham, former deputy county administrator, and for a brief period, the county administrator, who was hired to replace Joey Preston, when his contract was bought out.

The motion for summary judgment sought to have Cunningham’s suit dismissed. Cunningham is seeking the $400,000 buyout built into the contract that was awarded to him in a November 18, 2008 meeting of the Council.

The events of that meeting are currently being investigated by a state grand jury.

In a meeting of the Anderson County Council finance committee, District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson presented her suggestions for approximately $2 million in budget cuts.

Much of the second February County Council meeting was taken up with the recommendations brought by the finance committee for Council consideration.

One of the items involved a request from Solicitor Chrissy Adams seeking $157,000 for furniture and furnishings for her new offices. The finance committee recommended approval, but the proposal ran into some stiff opposition from the unlikely alliance of Chairman Tommy Dunn and District Two Councilwoman Gracie Floyd.

In a special budget workshop meeting, Anderson County Council finance committee chairman Francis Crowder thoroughly and meticulously allayed any suspicions about the way the current administration and administrator are conducting the County’s business.

In a presentation that lasted more than an hour, Crowder, with assistance from the County staff, addressed and defused a number of concerns raised by two members of the Council.

Almost two years after it was originally filed, arguments in the lawsuit that Michael Cunningham brought against Anderson County was again postponed, less than twenty four hours before the hearing was scheduled to begin.

In addition, the hearing, rescheduled for March, was to be presided over by Judge Alex Macaulay, instead of Judge Cordell Maddox, who has been presiding over the suit as it meanders through the courts.

MARCH

A long and convoluted legal battle between the owners of a construction and demolition (C&D) landfill in northern Anderson County and the County itself came to an end when the County Council voted to accept a settlement with Greenpointe, LLC.

The settlement ends a long battle by residents of the Three and Twenty Precinct who opposed the landfill operation and the owners of Greenpointe, LLC, Wasteco. Greenpointe will receive a cash settlement of $150,000, of which the County will pay only $25,000. The state Insurance Reserve Fund will pay the remainder.

Anderson County Council continued to struggle with the issue of the ongoing investigation into the past administration’s activities and how to pay the costs of that investigation. That investigation had cost in excess of $1.5 million.

The Anderson County Council held a budget workshop, hearing once again why the sewer fund, which is supposed to pay its own way, continued to be a drain on the county’s resources.

The lawsuit by former county administrator Michael Cunningham against Anderson County showed signs of life as a new presiding judge told the attorneys for the two sides that they had till March 28 to get any further arguments in support of their case to the court.

One issue centers around whether Cunningham’s termination by the County Council in early 2009 was unlawful. He contends that it was, while the County says that Cunningham had a contract at the time, thereby his termination exempt from the law on unlawful termination.

The Anderson County Council spent much of its second February meeting examining and approving a long list of recommendations from the finance committee, as well as a series of concepts to be followed in structuring the budget for FY2011-2012.

As the remains of Airman Nick Alden were on their way back to Anderson county for honors and burial, Anderson City and County law enforcement officials were working together to address potential public safety issues related to the planned services for the Williamston airman.

A possible protest by members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka Kansas was averted when the radical sect, which claims American soldiers die because of our nation’s tolerance of homosexuality, were granted air time on a local radio station instead.

In a final resolution to a bizarre case involving a former local teacher, Stephen Vickery has dropped his appeal of his suspension as a Palmetto Middle School teacher, and has voluntarily and permanently surrendered his teaching certificate. The grounds for the voluntary surrender will appear on the records as “unprofessional conduct.”

The final and official census numbers for Anderson County and its nine census districts confirm that the County Council district lines will be redrawn prior to the 2012 elections.

Anderson County Council voted to accept an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the Anderson Regional Water System (ARWS). That IGA would authorize the County to use the $944,370 it realized from last year’s sale of the TriCounty landfill site to increase the size of the water line being constructed to supply the First Quality paper products facility being built in the Starr area.

APRIL

Tenth Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams and the Anderson County Council continued contentious negotiations over Adams’ request for new furniture for her offices at the first April County Council meeting.

County Council approved a set of what District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson described as guidelines for county administrator Rusty Burns to incorporate in producing his proposed budget for fiscal year 2011-2012.

The Anderson County Transportation committee approved more than half a million dollars in road and other projects in the District Six and District Seven areas.

A combination of funding is being used to make major improvements in the safety of students at the Wren Schools complex.

The Finance Committee of the Anderson County Council received the draft budget proposed for the coming fiscal year by county administrator

Rusty Burns and his staff.

Among the salient points of the budget are no tax increase; no pay raises; no decrease in services provided; no furlough days for county employees; employees will contribute to their health care insurance. A total of $1.4 million was cut from the previous year’s budget; despite increased retirement and insurance costs of more than $222,000 and a reduction of $940,000 in revenues returned by the state to the county.

Another proposal was to restore $15,000 per council member in their individual paving and infrastructure accounts.

Anderson County Sheriff’s investigators and agents from the South Carolina Secretary of State’s Office conducted an undercover operation and raid at the Anderson Jockey Lot last Saturday, arresting fourteen and seizing more than a quarter of a million dollars worth of counterfeit goods.

The Anderson County Council heard a progress report concerning First Quality Tissue. The company was already employing 448 construction workers at the site, a number expected to climb to 550 in coming months. They have also hired 126 permanent workers. That number was expected to increase to 350 by the end of the year, and over the next several years, increase to as many as a thousand.

Following the presentation, Council voted to approve an intergovernmental agreement that ensured the company and the area of their facility more than adequate water for their manufacturing processes, as well as providing enough capacity to handle further industrial growth in the area.

Council repealed an ordinance limiting truck traffic on Hamlin Road, in the Three and Twenty Precinct. That weight limit was imposed in an effort to stop the development of the Greenpointe C&D landfill at that time. Greenpointe sued the county over that and other acts taken against them; the repeal of the ordinance was one condition included in a settlement reached between Greenpointe and the county earlier this year.

MAY

Anderson County Council gave first reading approval to the budget proposed by county administrator Rusty Burns and his staff.

The budget reflects a five per cent reduction in the general fund budget, while avoiding any tax increase or rise in fees. No furlough days were included in the budget. That budget also eliminated 37 positions, thirty of which come from the general fund.

Rep. Brian White was elected as Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and assumed the Chair on June 29 when Rep. Dan Cooper resigned the seat.

The Anderson County Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve a request for rezoning in the Three and Twenty precinct.

The request was initiated by the County itself, as part of a court settlement in a lawsuit filed by Greenpointe, LLC, owners and operators of the C&D landfill on the site. The lawsuit was brought partly because the zoning was enacted after Greenpointe began construction of the landfill, which accepts only construction and demolition debris, not mainstream solid waste.

Three companies announced plans to locate or expand into the Piedmont area, bringing several millions of dollars in capital investment, and creating approximately 125 jobs over the coming months. The impetus in each of those three cases was Jimmy Wilson, Piedmont native, and local businessman.

Judge Alex Macaulay handed the County a huge victory in its lawsuit with former county administrator Michael Cunningham, who was suing to acquire the severance package built into the contract he was awarded on November 18, 2008.

The strain of budget negotiations was evident as the Anderson County Council continued to look for ways to cut spending.

Back in court, a series of motions pertaining to the County’s lawsuit to recover the severance package given former administrator Joey Preston were heard. One motion brought by the County was to declare former Councilman Willie Horton ‘Bill’ McAbee, Jr. to be in contempt of court for failing to comply with a documents subpoena served on him more than a year ago. Judge Maddox refused to declare McAbee in contempt because he answered the requests in court.

In another key hearing of a motion, the County sought to unseal the family court records of Joey Preston’s divorce from his former wife Barbara Preston, who had since remarried.

State and county officials met with the public in the Powdersville area seeking input into a number of transportation issues facing the area.

Chief among those concerns was the impact of the new Powdersville high school on traffic along Hood and Roe Roads. Hood Road is the site of the existing elementary and middle schools.

A work group made up of volunteers was formed to seek input on issues such as traffic flow, safety and access to businesses along the Highway 153 corridor.

JUNE

The Anderson County Council voted down more than three quarters of a million dollars in budget cuts proposed by Councilwoman Cindy Wilson.

The Council also declined to authorize Solicitor Chrissy Adams to establish a bad check unit.

Attorneys for former County Administrator Michael Cunningham filed an appeal to a ruling in May that he was not entitled to any severance pay, as a result of his termination by the County Council in 2009.

Joshua Putnam, a political newcomer who almost defeated Rep. Dan Cooper in the Republican primary, won the runoff to fill Cooper’s vacated term, defeating several other Republican candidates.

The Anderson County Council adopted a budget which included several pages of changes presented by Finance Committee Chairman Frances Crowder.

The total budget was a little over $124 million with the general fund budget accounting for approximately $57 million.

JULY

As expected, the race for the vacated District 10 seat for the SC House of Representatives required a runoff to settle between Joshua Putnam and Hamp Johnson.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held for a new AnMed affiliated Wren Family Medicine facility near the intersection of Highways 81, 8 and 17, in the Wren Community.

The facility was being built partly in response to the explosive growth in the Wren/Powdersville area. The 2010 census reflected a growth rate of 32-34% in the area.

In a solid victory for the County, Circuit Judge Cordell Maddox declined to quash the County’s subpoena to depose former County Councilman Bill McAbee.

McAbee and his attorney Chuck Allen sought to have the subpoena quashed, thereby allowing McAbee to avoid deposition concerning his role in several real estate transactions he conducted with the County while on the Council. The matter is related to the County’s lawsuit against former administrator Joey Preston and its efforts to retrieve the $1.2 million buyout Preston received in November of 2008.

In an extremely close runoff for the House District Ten seat, Joshua Putnam defeated Hamp Johnson by just 79 votes, a margin provided by his strong showing in the Hunt Meadows precinct.

AUGUST

The Anderson County Council, began the process of redrawing the districts for the County Council elections in 2012.

District Six Councilman Ken Waters spoke with approximately two dozen citizens in an informal town meeting at the Powdersville library.

Not surprisingly, traffic was one of the constant topics, as Waters and county administrator Rusty Burns answered questions and heard concerns from the audience.

Waters also announced that the county had funding and was looking for seven acres of land to locate a full service convenience center on, so that area residents wouldn’t have to travel so far, especially for disposal of yard debris and clippings.

A court ruling concerning Anderson County’s lawsuit against Joey Preston made clear the paper trail, or trails, were of great importance.

The attorneys for the Wyche Burgess Law Firm, which is handling the case for the County, have stated in court their belief that former administrator Joey Preston steered transactions McAbee’s way in order to secure his cooperation and votes on various matters during McAbee’s term, as well as providing other members with inducements to ensure their cooperation and support as well.

Approximately 200 people crowded the Anderson County Council Chambers to speak about the zoning along the East West Connector. Council voted to ban any significant commercial or business development along the 2.94 mile long road. The majority of the audience demanded that the area be kept totally residential. In the end, Council accommodated them by a vote of 7-0.

David Watson, who served as either county administrator or interim county administrator for twelve years, and as Belton Town administrator for ten years, was honored for his lifetime of public service.

Tenth Circuit Solicitor Chrissy Adams finally won a long tough fight to establish a worthless check unit (WCU).

Adams confirmed that SLED had been asked to investigate the Public Defender’s Office. Both financial records and case records

were the subjects of the investigation, according to Adams.

Joshua Putnam soundly defeated Constitutional Party candidate Dave Ballard for the District 10 House seat vacated by former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dan Cooper. Cooper had served for twenty one years, filling the seat his father had held for sixteen years previous to that.

SEPTEMBER

The Labor Day weekend’s festivities in Anderson included the Tour de LaFrance Omnium cycling races, which were a big success.

The cycling event, sponsored by Sunbrella, drew an international field, with cyclists from several South American countries, including Colombia and Argentina. Justin Meade of Williamston placed first in the category 3-4 criterium competing with 25 bike racers from Atlanta, Greenville, Athens and other areas.

The Celebrate Anderson jazz concert in the amphitheater at the Civic Center drew between six and eight thousand people and was a great success.

Dean Woods, of Anderson University, and the Rocky River Conservancy, spoke to Council seeking the County’s participation in the planning of a proposed greenway incorporating four hundred acres of wetlands, forests, and swamp along the Rocky River. The University received 125 acres along the river as a gift in 2008, according to Woods, and began exploring the possibilities the gift offered.

The Anderson County Council got its first look at the preliminary proposal for redrawing the district lines for the seven Council seats.

The mother of two children who briefly attended a summer camp operated by a controversial religious and political figure in Anderson County filed a small court claim against The Fresh Start Community Development Corporation and the AC Rice Community Development Corporation. The Reverend Erick Levett Bradshaw is executive director of the Fresh Start Corporation.

The majority of the Anderson County council meeting was spent explaining how the County became saddled with the enormous debt load that its wastewater operations placed on it.

The emergence of eco-tourism in South Carolina and the Upstate influenced the nature and design of the Dolly Cooper Park on the banks of the Saluda River in Powdersville. The second phase is likely to undergo design changes intended to increase the thirty seven acre site’s use as a launch and recovery site for canoers and kayakers. Spearheading that shift is the possibility of a nine mile corridor meeting the standards of the American Disabilities Act, or ADA.

OCTOBER

Amid news reports that Upstate legislators had traded their paltry salaries for a pension of triple that amount, even while they continued to serve in the General Assembly, The Journal reported that none of the legislators representing Anderson County had moved to the deep end of the trough.

The controversial Anderson County animal shelter advisory committee was on its way out following a four to three vote by Council to abolish it. Two more readings are needed to actually pull the plug.

A request for funding to construct a turn lane into a privately owned business continued to draw criticism from two members of the Anderson County Transportation Committee, even months after it was approved.

The project called for the construction of a left turn lane on Webb Road, to allow trucks to turn into the AmCan Trucking company’s yard without obstructing traffic. ACTC member Mark Powell said the project was a waste of taxpayer’s money,

The average Anderson County homeowner will see a savings on their homeowner’s insurance as a result of an ISO inspection and rating upgrade, according to County Fire Chief Billy Gibson. The Insurance Service Organization, the nation’s premier inspector and reviewer of fire departments and their performance upgraded the county rating from 5/9 to 4/9.

The Anderson County Council banned the possession, advertising and use of the designer drugs commonly known as bath salts following the death of an Anderson University student.

A proposed countywide hospitality tax could generate as much as $3 million a year, according to Imagine Anderson, which pitched that idea to the Anderson County Council.

Wayne Harris and Rex Maynard presented the case for the proposed tax, which would impose a two per cent tax on all prepared foods and beverages sold in the county.

NOVEMBER

The issue of the animal shelter once dominated the Anderson County Council meeting.

Following a presentation by a representative of the Upstate Animal Rescue of South Carolina to address allegations made against her by some members of Council, the Council voted to give third reading approval to an ordinance abolishing the animal shelter advisory committee. That ordinance, however, was amended at second reading in an effort to save the committee; so that the final vote actually didn’t abolish the committee but simply suspended it until January, while new guidelines and duties are established for the members.

State Representative Don Bowen prefiled proposed legislation that would abolish the Anderson County School Board, a move which Bowen says would save $700,000 a year.

The required reassessment of real estate values in Anderson County may be delayed a year, while software refinements are made to the appraisal program developed by county auditor Mike Freeman. The delay would have little effect on county revenues, said Freeman, because the reassessment will be based on 2011 sales of real estate, no matter when it occurs.

Councilwoman Cindy Wilson took issue with a number of budget transfers, including one for $18,000 which was made to cover legal expenses related to two lawsuits the county is involved in. She called the transfers ridiculous, even though all were made in compliance with the county policy governing budget transfers. The transfers were approved by a vote of 5-2 with Floyd and Allen opposed.

As part of the County’s ongoing efforts to attract economic development and jobs to Anderson County, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was crafted which reaffirmed and redefined the relationship between the County’s Economic Development Office (EDO) and Innovate Anderson.

In a called meeting, Anderson County Council approved an agreement to restructure two fee in lieu of taxes agreements (FILOT) with Robert Bosch,LLC.

The Journal reported on information contained in a thick sheaf of legal documents related to the legal maneuverings that preceded the buyout of former county administrator Joey Preston’s contract in November of 2008.

The information was obtained after the Anderson County Council voted to waive the attorney/client privilege between the 2008 Council and attorney Tom Bright, whose firm of Ogletree & Deakins represented the County in the action brought by Preston against the County.

DECEMBER

Two contracts awarded by former County Administrator Joey Preston to friends or relatives of friends in the last days of his administration finally expired and will not be renewed.

The contracts, one to State Senator John Scott, dba C&S Consulting, and one to Alison Schaum, dba Palmetto Agriculture Consultants, cost the county and the taxpayers $466,910.86 since November of 2008.

Allegro Industries opened their new manufacturing facility in Upstate Industrial Park in Piedmont. The company, which produces a variety of industrial safety products, including respirators and ventilators, relocated to Anderson County from its California home because the daughter of one of its owners, was attending Clemson University, and they wanted to be closer to her.

The proposal to delay the reassessment of property values in Anderson County received second reading approval based largely on assurances by assessor Mike Freeman that the need for the delay would be fully explained at a work session prior to the third reading.

Rick Cothran, from TriCounty Technical College, appeared to make a case for a long term low cost lease arrangement for approximately 77 acres of county land at the airport. Cothran told Council that the land would be used for training heavy equipment operators in such areas as earth moving, site preparation, and asphalt installation.

Senator Kevin Bryant, R- District 3, prefiled two bills which would address issues of unemployment benefits, who gets them, under what conditions, and for how long.

One bill, S1050, would require unemployment benefits recipients to pass a drug test.The second bill, S1026. would strip benefits from those recipients with part time employment. The current system allows for benefits on a reduced scale depending on what the applicant reports as income. The bill would also define the length of time which an applicant could receive benefits for.

The area celebrated the Christmas Season and readied for 2012! Happy New Year!