Anderson County 2016 Year in Review

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The following highlights and news events covered by Journal reporter Stan Welch in and around Anderson County in 2016:

JANUARY

Anderson County Councilwoman Cindy Wilson accompanied several local officials and members of the Pelzer Heritage Commission to Columbia to meet with state officials about ongoing efforts to cleanup the abandoned mill sites in Pelzer.

Senator William Hamilton “Billy” O’Dell passed away ending a career in public service that spanned more than a quarter century. Senator O’Dell represented Anderson, Abbeville and Greenwood counties in Senate District Four. The announcement of his passing came during a meeting of members of the legislative delegation and a number of public officials and administrators, who were meeting to discuss the upcoming state budget.

At age seventy seven, O’Dell was one of the senior legislators in the General Assembly, and he used his seniority, as well as his reputation for integrity and cooperation to generate funding for miles and miles of water and sewer lines in the mostly rural area he served.

The federal legal proceedings, originating with a criminal investigation into the financial activities of former Anderson County councilman Ron Wilson continued to make waves. Candy Kern Fuller, an Easley attorney who was associated with Wilson, as well as other participants in Wilson’s Ponzi scheme, has been named in a federal lawsuit to recover profits Fuller made from her participation in the fraudulent silver investment scheme.

At the first County Council meeting of the new year, Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns mentioned two huge economic development projects underway referring to the TTI (Ryobi) distribution center being constructed at the intersection of Highways 81 and I-85 and the Coca Cola distribution center being built at Hwy. 86 and I-85 in Piedmont.

Burns also explained that the county has received more than $2 million in grant funds, with much of that money being funneled through the Pelzer Heritage Commission as a tax exempt organization partnering with the county on the Neighborhood Initiative Program (NIP).

The program is funded by the U.S. Treasury Department, and is administered by the South Carolina Housing Office. Its purpose is to identify, purchase, and demolish blighted homes in order to stabilize property values and to prevent eventual foreclosures of the property.

A settlement was reached in a libel lawsuit involving reporter Stan Welch, radio host Rick Driver and Rick Freemantle. The lawsuit was filed by Anderson resident Doreen Montepara six years ago over alleged flyers that were placed on the windshields of cars during an Anderson County Council meeting in 2009. Under the terms of the settlement, no one claims any liablility in the case and all parties agree that they will not sue one another again on the same matters.

The defendants agreed to issue a public statement that Montepara was not involved in the medical disciplinary incident in Connecticut, and certain other requirements.

FEBRUARY

Five Republicans signed up to run for the South Carolina Senate District 4 seat left vacant by the death of Sen. Billy O’Dell. Candidates seeking the seat were Williamston resident Mark Powell, Williamston councilman and businessman Rockey Burgess, former Anderson City official Willie Day, State Representative Mike Gambrell of Honea Path and Greenwood Attorney Tripp Padgett.

The Anderson County Network cable channel was debuted. The channel is broadcast on Charter and streamed live providing information and content provided by Anderson County, various school districts, civic organizations, charities, Clemson Extension Service, and other sources. County Administrator Rusty Burns said that the service is designed to pull the far flung corners of the county together,at least electronically.

Anderson County Sheriff’s investigators charged four individuals, including a 19 year Tabitha Suzanne Roberts, of Williamston, in connection with an incident in which two people were killed on Pierce and Amy Road in Iva January 9.

They were each charged with two counts of murder, attempted armed robbery and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.

A standing room only crowd showed up at the Anderson Civic Center to hear Republican Presidential candidate and Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who, according to several polls, was rapidly closing the gap between himself and Donald Trump just a few days before the South Carolina primary.

Congressman Jeff Duncan (SC-03) introduced legislation giving the House of Representatives the authority to file a lawsuit against the Obama Administration should they violate or attempt to violate the law regarding the transfer of detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The legislation was in response to the President’s signing statement to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016 as well as the Department of Defense’s outline for closing the facility.

Anderson County Republican voters overwhelmingly went for Donald Trump as their first choice to represent them as the GOP presidential candidate, following a trend statewide with the exception of Richland and Charleston counties.

MARCH

The process to address the problems facing the county’s various EMS and Rescue Squad organization continued as the Pelzer Rescue Squad was asked to send one representative to meet with the consultants hired by Anderson County to determine the best means to provide emergency health services to the county.

The process began in 2015 when the Williamston Squad was overwhelmed by poor management practices, and was struggling to meet its routine operating obligations. Following meetings with the board of directors of the squad, the County Council moved in and made an arrangement with private medical provider Medshore to assume operation on a one year contract in the Williamston area.

County Council subsequently reviewed the condition of all the county’s squads and found that all were in varying degrees of financial distress. Following a search for consultants, Fitch & Associates, a firm out of North Platte Nebraska, was awarded the contract to do an EMS study.

Anderson County was allocated $9.2 million from state funding for road work and/or repair to Anderson County roadways. It was announced that the SC General Assembly had allocated funding from a large budget surplus to be returned to the counties for use in road paving. Anderson County received $7.5 million. Adding Anderson County Council’s allocation of C-funds for $1.5 million brought the total available for road improvements in the county to just over $9 million.

Anderson County Deputy Coroner Don McCown said the death of a 3-month-old infant at a day care on Youth Center Road in the Cheddar community was “an unfortunate accident,” and the day care operator was in no way responsible. He said it is a warning to parents that waterproof, plastic covers should not be used on the mattresses of infants.

Amy Latham, the Pelzer woman reported missing was found near her home. Latham, who had been missing from her home on Smith Street for several days, was found by a family member and taken to the hospital for evaluation according to the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office.

Despite facing a five man field, State Rep. Mike Gambrell almost closed out the deal in the special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by Senator Billy O’Dell’s untimely passing early this year. With a somewhat heavier turnout than was anticipated, at eight per cent, Gambrell won forty six per cent of the vote with 2,149 votes.

Williamston businessman and town councilman Rockey Burgess was the second highest vote getter with 1,505 or 32 percent. A runoff between the two candidates was scheduled.

APRIL

Kinder Morgan announced they are suspending work on the proposed $1 billion Palmetto Pipeline project citing the unfavorable action by the Georgia legislature regarding eminent domain authority and permitting restrictions for petroleum pipelines.

The death of a Powdersville man was ruled a homicide according to Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore. Steven Cameron, 35 was found dead on the front porch of his Sterling Bridge Road home. Shore said two gunshot wounds to the chest indicated a homicide.

As a result of the investigation, three subjects were identified as being involved in the incident. James Milton Gambrell, 57, of Greenville was charged as an accessory before the fact to a violent felony and with solicitation to commit a felony. Per arrest warrants, Gambrell sent two individuals to Cameron’s home and provided them with a gun and a vehicle, in order to rob the victim.

Jason Franklin Carver, 38, of Greenville was charged with murder for his participation in the shooting. Warrants were signed on the second individual, Woodrow Walter Curry, 44, of Greenville.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office released descriptions of three suspects who were involved in a shooting incident in which one person was killed and three others seriously injured during an incident at 220 Eastview Rd.. Witnesses provided information leading the sheriff’s office to believe that the victims were familiar with the suspects and the incident may have occurred over a dispute regarding money over a drug

transaction.

Approximately a hundred citizens and law enforcement officers gathered at the White Plains Community Building to watch and listen as Anderson County Sheriff John Skipper made his case for reelection, while two challengers made their case for a change in leadership. The debate was organized and sponsored by the White Plains Crime Watch group.

Former ACSO deputy under three sheriffs, including Skipper, Chad McBride repeatedly challenged the incumbent’s handling of his budget, while former SCHP trooper Jeremy Pickens challenged the sheriff’s management style, and linked it to what he says is a subpar performance by the department.

Faced with a badly crumbling state infrastructure, Governor Nikki Haley proposed an increase in the state gasoline tax.The proposal included a reduction in the state income tax from the current seven per cent to five per cent, to offset the increase at the pumps. The elevation of the head of the SC Department of Transportation to a cabinet level post was also a part of the proposal.

While the House approved the tax increase it bogged down in the Senate, as demands for significant reforms to the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) became loud and strident.

MAY

The Journal confirmed that there were ongoing communications between WalMart’s engineering firm and the Anderson County permitting office. Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns confirmed that the County has received notification of some additions to the plans that are on file. “The company’s engineering firm has advised us that they will be adding a fueling station and a grocery pickup to the original plans,” Burns said.

During their first of two monthly meetings, Anderson County Council approved an ordinance which will allow the elections commission to conduct the municipal elections of the town of Pelzer in odd numbered years. Council also authorized the County to obtain a loan from the Catawba Council of Governments to be used in cleanup efforts at the Toxaway and Pelzer mill sites.

First reading approval was given to a proposed ordinance sponsored by Councilwoman Wilson to restrict heavy trucks from Hopewell, Cheddar and Breazeale roads. A public hearing of the matter was slated for the next Council meeting.

Congressman Jeff Duncan spoke to The First Monday Club. He offered his views on a number of topics, but his most startling revelation concerned the possible Democratic candidate for President.

“From what I am hearing, and what I know, I don’t expect Hillary Clinton to make it to the Democratic Convention without being indicted,” he told a capacity crowd. Clinton continues to be under investigation by the FBI for her handling of classified materials contained in e-mails which she stored on a non-secure server.”

The picture of the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) painted by the executive summary of a recent state ordered audit of that organization is one of politics over policy, and a general lack of organization. The results leave the public perception of the department as being poised somewhere between gross mismanagement and outright corruption.

One of the biggest problems the department has is its proclivity for projects that add new roads, or expand existing ones, as opposed to programs designed to maintain the state’s bridges and roads.

The Anderson County Planning Department prepared to issue the requests for qualifications needed to award the contracts for the cleanup projects at the Pelzer and Toxaway mill sites. The projects will be funded with a loan from the EPA, and administered by the Catawba Council of Governments.

The Pelzer project will receive a $250,000 loan, with a thirty per cent forgiveness feature, meaning that only $175,000 will have to be repaid. That repayment will come from the County general fund, with no cost to the town or the Heritage Commission. The Toxaway project will be funded by a combination loan and grant arrangement.

Turnout was very low for the Senate District Four Special Election , however Republican Primary winner Mike Gambrell had no trouble getting the votes needed to secure his position as the winner.

In Anderson County, of 48,208 registered voters, only 1,082 turned out to vote in the special election. In Greenwood County of a total of 7,825 registered voters, only 234 voted. Gambrell’s name was the only one appearing on the ballot however there was the option of voting for a write-in candidate.

The three candidates for Solicitor of the Tenth Judicial Circuit met at the White Plains Community Building for a debate. While the crowd was considerably smaller than the one that attended the Sheriff’s debate, the debate was just as lively.

Wilson Burr, who resigned as chief public defender to run for the office, wasted little time in firing a salvo at the other two candidates, Rame Campbell and David Wagner, both of whom  serve as deputy solicitors under Chrissy Adams. Burr drew that distinction clearly, as he persistently raised issues that he has with the current administration.

JUNE

An independent audit report on the South Carolina Department of Transportation revealed strong points and weaknesses.

The audit focused on efficiency, the DOT’s failure to prioritize projects appropriately, and mis-allocation of funds, in terms of serving the state’s overall infrastructure needs. One aspect of those mis-allocations is the prioritization of funds. The audit states clearly that even as the state’s roads suffered severe deterioration from 2008 to 2014, more emphasis was put on adding new miles to the state inventory, rather than repairing and maintaining existing roads.

According to documents issued by U.S. District Court Judge Michelle Childs, the legal proceedings against former Anderson County Administrator Joey Preston in relation to his role in the Ron Wilson Ponzi scheme will not go to court before February of 2017.

An amended conference and scheduling order was issued by the court in February of this year. The filing of the order also marked the beginning of the discovery process for the upcoming proceedings. Preston is a defendant in the bullion scheme that Wilson ran for more than a decade, bilking almost a thousand victims out of almost sixty million dollars. Wilson is currently serving a sentence of just under twenty years for his part in the scheme.

Two major economic development projects continued to move towards completion in The Journal’s readership area. The Coca Cola Bottling Company cut the ribbon to open its new distribution center located at exit 35, at the intersection of I-85 and Highway 86 on June 23. Near Exit 27, the construction of the new TTI/Ryobi facility was drawing to a close.

At the county council meeting, Councilman Francis Crowder, who is not seeking reelection, revisited the decisions made by the General Assembly eight years ago, when they passed Act 388 and also reduced vehicle taxes; a combination of actions that Crowder said had cost Anderson County approximately $8 million a year in reduced aid to subdivisions funding from the state. He went on to revisit the state mandates that also increase the fiscal pressure on the county, and listed various options the county can employ, if the political will can be mustered.

When Crowder was finished, Councilwoman Gracie Floyd could hardly wait to revisit the issue of how much the county has spent in its legal battles with former administrator Joey Preston.

A suspect in a recent murder and assault on a second victim was taken into custody in Knoxville, TN almost a week after the crimes were committed.

Stephen Grant Parten was arrested early on Wednesday morning, June 1, by members of the U.S. Marshal Fugitive Task Force. Parten was being sought in connection with the murder of Ahmen Fallous on May 26. The scene of the murder was the White City Park Bridge. An extensive manhunt involving an air search and K-9 units was launched at the time, but was unsuccessful.

Unofficial election results showed Chad McBride received 58.21 percent of the vote to defeat incumbent John Skipper and challenger Jeremy Pickens in the Anderson County Sheriff’s race. David Wagner and Rame Campbell were the top two vote getters in the Circuit 10 Solicitor race and faced a runoff.

Mike Gambrell held off challenger Rockey Burgess again with 61.28 percent of the vote to 38.72 for Burgess for the Senate District 4 seat.

A twenty three year old Easley man was out of jail for less than twelve hours before being taken into custody for grand larceny auto theft. Alan Jacob Gunter was taken into custody at the Power Trac 5 convenience store on Highway 88 in Central.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office investigated a traffic accident on Hwy. 418 that turned into a shooting. According to reports, the witnesses reported that the car struck a telephone pole and caught fire.

When deputies arrived, witnesses told them that the driver of the car was able to exit safely and he approached them asking them not to contact the police. The driver was told that the police were already on the way and a verbal altercation ensued. Dur

ing the verbal altercation, one of the witnesses presented a bat and the driver of the vehicle presented a firearm. By that time, all the noise and ruckus had brought the property owner, Jerry Lee Lollis, 62, to the scene on his ATV. According to witnesses, when he saw Gilmore was armed, he turned the ATV to flee, but Gilmore shot him. Lollis died three hours later during surgery.

Gilmore fled into a nearby tree line, where he was subsequently caught, after reinforcements and K-9 officers were brought in. The nineteen year old Gilmore, a black male, was wanted on eleven warrants in the Charlotte/Mecklenburg County area. There was considerable speculation the incident was gang related.

Anderson County Council gave final approval to the 2016-2017 budget, a budget which contained some minor increases. A one mill increase will be dedicated for use by the library system, while Tri County Technical College will also receive a small increase in its funding. The solid waste fee per household will increase by two dollars a year, and developers will pay a higher storm water fee.

JULY

For the first time in fifty nine years, a South Carolina teenager won the national competition for the Distinguished Young Woman of America contest. Tara Moore, of Powdersville, representing the state, won first place in the competition, formerly known as America’s Junior Miss.

Anderson County Council considered revisions to the county’s animal ordinance proposed by District Four Councilman Tom Allen. The amended ordinances clean up several administrative issues, such as confirming that the animal control operations are under the Sheriff’s jurisdiction, and not environmental services. Also, the jurisdiction of the county administrator’s office over PAWS, or the animal shelter operations, is clarified and confirmed. But a major controversial provision of the proposals made it illegal for an individual to put down their own animal.

The Greenville County Sheriff’s Office investigated a fatal stabbing incident at 503 Old Piedmont Hwy Lot 2 (Shady Rest Mobile Home Park). According to the GCSO, the parties that were involved were siblings, a brother and sister. The stabbing took place during a physical assault.

Former Anderson County Administrator Joey Preston conceded to the federal courts that he did in fact profit far beyond his original claims from his role in the Ron Wilson Ponzi scheme that left hundreds of investors bilked out of almost $60 million.

According to court documents in the federal case Preston has conceded that he did in fact make approximately $1.2 million on his original investment of $192,000 in the silver securities scam for which Wilson is currently serving time in a federal prison in Ashland, Ky.

Jeff Parkey, of the Anderson County Planning Department, informed the various town councils in the area that the department had reached the stage in their development of the ten year comprehensive plan where they were seeking reactions and input from the public.

The plan, which is used to project the county’s future needs in a number of categories, is subject to a mandatory review every five years, but must be reworked and updated thoroughly every ten years. That deadline will be reached next year; hence the efforts to gather information and opinions from the general public.

AUGUST

Unexpected drainage problems delayed a sidewalk construction project in Powdersville. The project, which would install just under a half mile (2500 linear feet) of ADA compliant sidewalks in the Ragsdale and Hood Roads area, ran off the rails, at least temporarily; when major drainage issues caused SCDOT to raise their estimated cost from $250,000 to $650,000.

The Anderson County Planning Department Staff was on hand at the Pelzer Community Building to gather public input for the comprehensive land use plan, which is being prepared for final approval by the County Council.

The meeting was one of several being held around the county in an effort to garner public input, but everyone attending the Pelzer meeting was there in one official capacity or another. Mayors, town council members, county planning commission officials, Pelzer Heritage Commission members, and town clerks were all represented, but no one from the general public attended.

An Anderson County Sheriff’s Deputy fatally shot a man as officers attempted to serve a probation violation warrant in the Wren community. Jeffrey Allen Morris, 44, of Mountain Springs Road was shot when he raised a gun at a deputy after about an hour standoff with deputies. He was taken to Greenville Memorial Hospital and died a few hours later.

Anderson County Council entertained several ontroversial matters on the agenda – third reading of an animal control measure and first reading of a proposed hospitality tax.

The animal control ordinance was pulled from the agenda because it needed additional tweaking of the legal language, according to Councilman Tom Allen, who sponsored the amended ordinance. Nevertheless, the proposed hospitality tax generated more than enough controversy and dissension among the Council.

SEPTEMBER

Dozens of public health officials, elected officials and first responders from across the Upstate gathered at the Anderson Civic Center to share information about the latest public health scare, the Zika virus, which is spread primarily by a mosquito bite. The virus has been linked to serious birth defects when present in pregnant women.

Anderson County Council continued to discuss the proposed hospitality tax. District Two Councilwoman Gracie Floyd held the floor for twenty five minutes, as she both supported and challenged the tax. During the public comment portion of the agenda, Williamston Town Councilman Rockey Burgess spoke about the issue, stating that the town’s hospitality tax has freed up general fund monies to be used in other ways.

District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson held a public forum at the Williamston Municipal Center to receive public input on the proposed two cent hospitality tax for the unincorporated areas of the county. The meeting narrowly avoided mob status, as loud, unruly behavior ran its course. Approximately thirty people attended the informal meeting, and approximately two thirds of them expressed anger at the tax, at the government, at corruption, and in general.

Wilson, for her part, struggled at times to control the emotional group, which occasionally expressed itself in profanity, and whose members often went on long, rambling rants against several unrelated aspects of government, at the local, state and federal levels.

At the following Council meeting, the Anderson County Council rejected a proposed two cents hospitality tax for the unincorporated areas of the county by a 4-2 vote, defeating the tax. The vote followed a lengthy public hearing which saw numerous citizens and elected officials speak, both for and against the tax. The tax would have imposed a two cent tax per dollar on all prepared foods sold in the county.

Anderson County Sheriff’s Deputy T.K. Cook was dispatched to 113 Pitman Drive, in response to a reported stabbing. Upon arrival, he encountered a white female and a white male, both of 104 Pitman Dr. No other identification was provided by the ACSO.

A BOLO (Be On the Lookout) alert was issued; and not long after, Capt. Brewer, of the West Pelzer Police Department, stopped a vehicle matching the description in the BOLO, and subsequently apprehended Christopher Michael Campbell, of Enoree. Campbell was also found to be in possession of 4.7 grams of methamphetamine.

Following the defeat of the proposed county hospitality tax, the Dolly Cooper Park in Powdersville was closed. The action was quickly reversed after public complaints.

OCTOBER

A 17-year old Wren student was charged with assault following an incident that occurred at Wren High School. Bradley Kade Clardy of Piedmont was arrested by Anderson County Sheriff’s Deputies for assault and battery in the third degree after allegedly stripping a 14 year old male student and forcing him to put on a cheerleader’s uniform. Warrants state the incident happened during school hours at the Wren High football field house and that it was caught on video.

Even as visitation was underway for six year old Jacob Hall, who was shot at Townville Elementary School and subsequently died, the Anderson County Council created a position for an additional school resource officer to be hired and on the school premises the next week.

The Council approved the creation of an SRO position for the school, where fourteen year old Jesse Osborne shot and wounded three children and a teacher before being subdued by Jamie Brock, a volunteer fireman who responded to the scene.

A man wanted for several criminal charges concerning a minor female was taken into custody by Anderson County Deputies at the Jockey Lot. Michael Andrew Keller was on the Anderson County Sheriff’s Most Wanted list for acts committed between December of 2014 and July of 2015.

Black activism made an appearance at the Anderson County Council meeting as members of the family of Charles Mackey and

their supporters came before the Council seeking assistance in the matter of his death.

Wearing Black Lives Matter apparel, approximately twenty friends and relatives of Mackey, a fifty seven year old black man who they say was murdered in Iva earlier this summer, came before the Council to ask their assistance in getting answers to their questions.

In 2015, the Williamston EMS Squad collapsed due to financial problems and mismanagement. That event spurred a study by Fitch & Associates to review the emergency medical services system in Anderson County.

The study states that the 911 center’s medical dispatch system is inconsistent, failing to produce demonstrable, reproducible results. Computer assisted dispatch (CAD) supported call taking results far too often in calls being dispatched as “hot” emergency responses, resulting in far too many “sirens and lights” responses.

NOVEMBER

Anderson County Council held a special called meeting to receive input from first responders, medical care providers and the general public concerning the recently released study on the future of the county’s emergency medical services.

The study by Fitch & Associates raised a number of concerns about the fragmented nature of the county’s emergency medical services. The individual nature of the various rescue squads and EMS squads across the county contributes to communications and accountability problems, according to that study.

Armed with the final report from the firm of Fitch and Associates concerning the issues facing the county’s emergency medical system, the Anderson County Council held a special called meeting to receive input from both the public and the various providers of those emergency medical services. It became quickly apparent that the existing providers are very eager to remain a part of the system.

DECEMBER

Unhappy with the perceived failure of DHEC to provide adequate notice of the deadline for public comment on the proposed solution to the 2014 Plantation Pipeline leak near Belton, County Councilwoman Cindy Wilson wrangled an additional week for such comments to be received, extending the deadline until December 6.

The issue is a proposal by Kinder Morgan, owner of the pipeline that leaked approximately three hundred seventy thousand gallons of gasoline in the Cheddar area in 2014, when a repair to the pipeline failed.

As county officials and emergency medical care providers struggle with the changing emergency care landscape in Anderson County, the announcement that a Tennessee based corporation has acquired a significant interest in Medshore, South Carolina’s largest privately owned ambulance service, further confused the scene.

That confusion about the impact that Medshore’s acquisition by Priority Ambulance is unnecessary, according to Greg Shore, CEO and primary owner of Medshore. Shore explained the reasons behind his divestiture of part of his company, but added that it should have no impact on the local situation.

Anderson County Council District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson took her crusade to force the Kinder Morgan corporation to complete its cleanup of a 2014 fuel spill at the Cheddar tank farm to the rest of the County Council. She came away armed with a unanimously approved resolution stating the County’s position on the matter.

Area residents and government officials readied for Christmas and a New Year!