County postpones vote to dismiss lawsuit indefinitely

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By Stan Welch

Anderson County’s six year legal battle with former county administrator Joey R. Preston will continue, following a vote Tuesday night to postpone indefinitely a final vote on a resolution to dismiss the County’s lawsuit.

District Two Councilwoman Gracie Floyd, one of only two current Council members who was also on the Council at the time of Preston’s contract buyout in late 2008, presented a resolution that would have the County simply dismiss their lawsuit to recoup the $1.14 million dollar severance package.

Floyd, who was an active player in the buyout of Preston, and the subsequent hiring of then deputy administrator Michael Cunningham, updated the financial support for her periodic arguments for dropping the matter by reminding the Council that they have spent more than three million dollars on the tangled legal proceedings that the County and Preston, as well as other players, have become mired in.

District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson, the other remaining member of the 2008 Council, countered Floyd’s arguments that the County’s pursuit of Preston could actually slow the county’s growth because it hurts the county’s image by pointing out that economic development has never been better.

Wilson also repeated her frequent complaints that the year after Preston left, the County faced almost thirty million dollars in new debt. As for economic development under Preston, Wilson pointed out that the state Department of Commerce told the County in 2009 that they had simply written Anderson off as a place to do business.

She also recounted several other legal situations related to the Preston severance package and Cunningham’s hiring. She reminded Floyd that the first suit brought by Floyd’s personal attorney, Candy Kern Fuller, was thrown out of court, and subsequently thrown out by the state Supreme Court. “Why weren’t you calling for them to quit?” asked Wilson.

She also pointed out once again that the suit against Preston is the only legal action initiated by the County. The other various lawsuits and cases are responses by the County to legal proceedings initiated by others, many of whom were represented by Kern-Fuller.

Strangely enough, it fell to District Four Councilman Tom Allen to provide the prevailing perspective on the issue. Allen, who has never been a supporter of the lawsuit against Preston, again laid out his reasons for that lack of support.

“I never thought we had a strong case, and I didn’t think we could recoup enough money to be worth the struggle. As for this appeal, I think we need to remember that all the subsequent revelations about Mr. Preston’s personal behavior while he was administrator, as well as his apparent role in Ron Wilson’s Ponzi scheme, will not be brought before the appeals court. All that will be reviewed are the original charges.”

“However”, he continued, “I will not vote to drop this case, for the simple reason that Judge Crouch has left the door open for Preston’s lawyers to seek their fees from the County. The numbers I hear most often are in the seven hundred fifty thousand dollar range, and I do not want to see the County faced with that possibility.”

Council Chairman Tommy Dunn, like several others, questioned the timing of Floyd’s resolution; pointing out that earlier in the day, Preston had responded to a federal court’s demand that Preston either repay the $1.2 million he allegedly made ofs the Wilson Ponzi scheme, or show cause why he cannot. “I see no advantage to us taking action on this resolution when so many other issues are unsettled, “ said Dunn. “I move that we postpone any action on this resolution indefinitely.”

The Council voted five to two for the motion.