County Council split on AU lease for office space

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By Stan Welch

As often happens during elections years, Anderson County politics got personal Tuesday night at the County Council meeting.

Following a long meeting keynoted by a contentious two hour debate over a proposed emergency operations center, Sheriff’s deputies assigned to security in the council chambers had to ask one citizen to sit down after he called Councilman Tommy Dunn an ass during the public comments at the end of the meeting.

District Seven resident Rick Freemantle, who before the recent redistricting plan, resided in District Six and ran three times for that District’s seat on County Council, is a vocal critic of the proposal to occupy a part of the Duke Energy building recently acquired by Anderson University.

Freemantle, who is in the residential construction and remodeling business, had spoken earlier during the first public comments part of the agenda, and cited his contractor’s experience in expressing his concerns about the proposal. When approached by the deputies, Freemantle opted for taking his seat, rather than be escorted out of the chambers.

Mark Powell, a former candidate for the Republican nomination for House Seat 10, also spoke.

Three members of the Council, Cindy Wilson, Eddie Moore and Gracie Floyd, have all expressed their desire to see the County use one of its existing facilities instead. Approximately two dozen citizens were on hand to support that view as well.

District Six Councilman Ken Waters, who defeated Freemantle in the 2010 primary, made the comment during the debate that in Anderson County anyone who has ever hit themselves in the thumb with a hammer can call themselves a contractor.

Councilman Tommy Dunn, also a contractor by trade, has expressed a different view of what refurbishing various County facilities would cost.

The debate over the plan to locate the emergency operations center, which will also serve as a training facility for those seeking an advanced education in law enforcement, has stirred public interest and produced one of the odder political alliances in recent Anderson County history.

Councilwoman Floyd and Councilwoman Wilson have a long and well documented history of ill feelings, while Floyd’s self-described personal attorney, Candy Kern Fuller, helped Moore get his first term on Council off to a good start by suing him, a case that is still dragging through the courts.

During the meeting, as Floyd repeatedly hammered away at her concerns, members of the audience who routinely speak against Floyd and her policies, were seen giving her thumbs up signs and applauding her statements.

For her part, Floyd, saying it was going to choke her to do so, credited long time critic and talk show host Rick Driver and his show with getting people involved in the issue.

Tuesday night’s debate was the result of the way the matter was handled at the previous Council meeting, when the proposal was tabled, and later improperly reconsidered. Instead of reconsidering the matter, the motion made should have been to remove the issue from the table and return it to the floor for discussion and action.

Ms. Floyd, who left that earlier meeting after the original discussion and tabling of the motion, stated Tuesday night that the minutes of that meeting should contain language that specifically refers to the mishandling of the matter.

She persisted in that opinion despite county attorney Mike Pitts’ repeated assurances that the votes taken at the last meeting were valid. “Of course” Pitts added “the Council can discuss anything they want when they wish. But the votes taken were legal, despite a technicality.”

The main issue is the question of leasing the office space in the Duke Energy building or refurbishing an existing county office instead. All the Council members took great pains to express their support for Anderson University.

Councilman Moore repeatedly expressed his disbelief that his fellow “supposedly conservative colleagues” would consider leasing the space. “We have four people who want to do that. Why don’t we go out to the Hilton at Exit 19 and just rent rooms there? It would be cheaper,” said Moore.

Following two hours of discussion and debate, the Council voted 4-3 to lease the space and enter into the partnership for training with Anderson University.