By Stan Welch
Anderson County’s legal efforts to recoup the financial package awarded to Joey Preston in 2008 will continue, following Thursday night’s vote to spurn a settlement offer from Preston’s attorneys.
The vote came after a number of citizens spoke to Council, all of them in opposition to the settlement, and an hour long executive session with the county attorney.
Preston’s attorneys had proposed that the County pay Preston’s legal fees, in the amount of $113,000. The funds would have been provided through the state’s Insurance Reserve Fund on behalf of the County.
Two of the dozen or so citizens who spoke were from the Williamston area. Mark Powell challenged Councilwoman Gracie Floyd’s right to participate in the executive session or the vote, saying that she was a member of the original five Council members who voted in 2008 to give Preston the $1.2 million severance package.
Powell also reminded the Council that they were elected to represent the people’s interests, not their own. The remarks were made in reference to reports that Councilman Eddie Moore had changed positions on the settlement after being threatened with legal action individually.
He also threatened the Council with a possible class action suit by the voters if they approved the settlement.
Rick Freemantle, from the White Plains community, and a frequent candidate for County Council, also spoke. Freemantle filed a similar lawsuit against the 2008 County Council; a suit that was originally thrown out by Judge Cordell Maddox but reinstated by the South Carolina Supreme Court.
During the hearing on that appeal, several Justices made it clear they considered the November 18, 2008 meeting at which the severance package was approved to have been orchestrated and a violation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act. A month after that hearing, the state grand jury closed its three year investigation without handing down a single indictment.
Freemantle also challenged Floyd’s right to be involved and told the Council that a vote to settle would validate a criminal act.
Tho other cases were proposed for settlement, though the terms of those proposals remain secret at this time. Erick Bradshaw, a supporter of Councilwoman Floyd, filed a lawsuit against the County in 2009, seeking information under the Freedom of Information Act. At the same time, generally speaking, a woman named Patricia Jones filed a suit which sought to sue then Council Chairman Eddie Moore individually. Both cases were also proposed for settlement.
The vote on the Preston proposal was five opposed (Crowder, Wilson, Allen, Moore, Dunn), one in favor (Floyd) and one abstention (Waters). The same vote prevailed on the Bradshaw proposal.
Councilman Moore spoke prior to the votes saying that he would not be intimidated by threats, recused himself from the Jones vote because he was personally involved in that lawsuit. Floyd once again voted to settle and Waters again abstained.
Waters later explained that he received information during the executive session that convinced him he should abstain. “I can’t talk about the executive session but I felt that was the right thing to do under the circumstances.”
Moore said, “I have a past. We all have a past. But I will not be intimidated by what some people say about things that happened twenty years ago.”
Council Chairman Tom Allen said. “We have gone through this with a fine tooth comb. We have spent a lot of money on these cases and hopefully, future expenditures will be minimal. But it’s time to finish this.”
Councilwoman Wilson, whose legal and political battles with Preston are Anderson legend, said simply “We continue to search for truth and justice in Anderson County. We’ll go forward in the courts and our cases look very strong.”
Preston filed documents with the court recently claiming that he is in dire financial straits. Also filed this week was a document from the state retirement finance office stating that Preston currently receives approximately $7600 a month in retirement benefits.