By Stan Welch
A proposed partnership between the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office and Anderson University led to some unusual circumstances at Monday night’s County Council meeting. The proposal, which would establish the county’s emergency operations center on the second floor of a building owned by the University, and also establish that center as the centerpiece for the proposed Excellence in Law Enforcement training facility, was both heavily opposed and adamantly defended.
The lease agreement for the approximately 6100 square foot area on the second floor of the Duke Energy office building recently purchased by AU calls for the County to spend approximately $93,000 in upgrades, as well as an annual lease of $54,000 for the first five years, after which the lease will be renegotiated.
District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson offered an amendment that added language to the lease which would increase the County Council’s opportunities to review the agreement if any substantive changes were pending. That amendment was passed by a vote of six to one.
The chain of relocations of various emergency and law enforcement functions began more than a year ago when the central dispatch headquarters in downtown Anderson on Tower Street was struck by lightning for the third time, and suffered extensive damage to the 911 system.
The technical shortcomings of that building, mainly in the form of an inadequate and almost non-existent grounding grid to protect from electrical overloads, caused the County’s insurance carrier to refuse further coverage unless the 911 system was moved. That was done, with the central dispatch being moved to the former FAA building at the airport. That building housed the emergency operations center at the time, so it had to be moved.
At about the same time, AU was obtaining the Duke Energy building and was interested in establishing a secondary training program in various law enforcement and emergency preparedness fields. Thus the partnership was proposed.
The majority of the reasons given in opposition were economic. District Three Councilman Eddie Moore argued that the County has a number of existing buildings that could be used instead, particularly the old McCant’s high school building.
“I was talking with a FEMA man awhile back and he said that building is a fortress, a treasure for Anderson County. It has everything we would need to put the EOC in there,” said Moore. District two Councilwoman Gracie Floyd, normally a staunch opponent of Moore, found herself in agreement, also arguing that the old McCant’s school should be considered. “It will meet the need.”
District Five Councilman Tommy Dunn, who like Moore has an extensive background in construction, challenged Moore’s claim that some of his colleagues had told him that the Tower Street facility could be retrofitted with a grounding grid for around $30,000. “The insurance company said differently, and refuses to provide coverage. That won’t be fixed with a few thousand dollars and a snap of the fingers,” said Dunn.
He also questioned Moore’s conversation with a FEMA representative. “I’d like to meet that fellow and talk to him for a few minutes, Mr. Moore. I guarantee you bringing the McCant’s building up to code would be a major undertaking. I’ll have that debate with anybody at any time.”
After a lengthy and contentious discussion, during which Mr. Moore raised concerns about whether District One Councilman Francis Crowder had made a back room deal with Anderson University, Councilwoman Wilson made a motion to table the issue, and it was tabled by a four to three vote, with Crowder, Dunn and Councilman Ken Waters opposed. A ten minute recess was then taken.
Clearly, the ten minutes were spent in further informal discussion of the matter, since Chairman Tom Allen proposed a reconsideration of the issue immediately upon returning to open session. Under Parliamentary rules, he could raise the issue again since he was on the prevailing side of the previous vote.
Following the vote to reconsider, Sheriff John Skipper came to the podium and stated that no back room deals had been made. He also pointed out that the $93,000 would have to be spent on upgrades regardless.
He added, “I certainly respect the Council’s right to ask questions. But I do not do things on a whim, and I would ask that the Council respect the fact that we look at such things very carefully before bringing them to you. It just makes sense to put all of this in one spot.”
Following Skipper’s comments, the Council, absent Ms. Floyd, who had left earlier, voted 5-1 to approve the agreement.
In other business, the Council unanimously approved a package of incentives to be provided to Michelin, Inc. concerning a proposed expansion of their operations in Anderson County. If the two new facilities are located here, they would generate approximately 300 jobs and involve an additional capital investment of more than a half billion dollars.