By Stan Welch – The Anderson County Council gave first reading approval to the proposed budget for FY 2012-2013 Monday night, amid promises of amendments and changes before final approval. The meeting was marked by a growing friction between District Two Councilwoman Gracie Floyd and the rest of Council, particularly District One Councilman Francis Crowder.
Beginning with a proposal by District Seven Councilwoman Cindy Wilson to rescind a requirement that paid lobbyists appearing before the Council reveal the identity of their clients, Floyd was fractious and combative.
Wilson was seeking to rescind the requirement put in place by a previous Council during the period when the controversial purchase of the Kroger building was underway. An attorney appeared to speak on behalf of a group of citizens and was required to identify the group.
Floyd, who was on the Council at that time, defended the requirement, saying, “Let me tell you the rest of the story. We had a lot of people coming in here and talking for other people and we didn’t know who we were talking to. As for being open and honest, we were already being open and honest.”
Council Chairman Tom Allen and District Five Councilman Tommy Dunn both opined that to rescind the requirement, which applies only to compensated or paid spokespersons, would actually reduce the transparency of the Council and its proceedings.
Councilman Crowder expressed confidence that the current Council would not participate in retribution against any citizen but said later Councils might very well do so. Councilman Eddie Moore reminded the Council that he and Tom Allen had been sued by citizens represented by an attorney who also represents Ms. Floyd.
Ms. Floyd expressed her view that it would be best to let the past stay in the past. “Whatever you think happened in terms of retribution, one day this Council will be the “last council” and our actions will be subject to review. Let’s leave the past behind us.”
Floyd was on the Council in 2008 when former administrator Joey Preston received a controversial severance package of $1.4 million. The circumstances surrounding that action and vote by the Council are currently under investigation by the state grand jury.
Later in the meeting, Councilman Crowder asked County Administrator Rusty Burns and finance department staffers Jana Pressley and Rita Davis to stand while he told the crowd that a national organization had recognized the Anderson County government as one of the top fifty in the nation in terms of government transparency. “Anderson County was rated A+. Only one other county in the state received that ranking. I just wanted people to know that we are working to be open and transparent every day.”
The issue of a request for the use of several acres at the airport site by TriCountyTech came up next, and the friction quickly picked up. Floyd has contended all along that her planning and public works committee should have taken the lead on that issue, but it first went through review by the finance committee, which Crowder chairs.
“We had to do a study first,” said Floyd, “but now the study is in and my committee will be acting on this. We may need to bring in the finance committee and work together. Imagine that.”
Burns informed the Council that the program to train heavy equipment operators was underway on a smaller tract of county land off the airport site, a revelation that clearly angered Floyd. “Can you explain that to me, Mr. Burns?” she asked.
Burns explained that he had allowed the use of the small tract in order to accommodate the school and to keep the proposed training program on the Anderson campus while Council continued to study the issue.
Floyd then got to the heart of the matter, saying, “I am being ignored in this matter.”
Crowder interjected that he felt Burns should have some leeway in making decisions “where no harm comes to the county, where no funds are involved. It’s a fine line between micromanagement and not.”
Floyd retorted, “I’m not down here 24 hours a day seven days a week, but I know a Councilman who is,” she said, clearly referring to Crowder. As the two exchanged comments, Chairman Allen moved to cut the discussion off, saying, “It’s getting to be like the Mafia. You kill one of mine and I’ll kill one of yours. So let’s just move on.”
Floyd then said, “ I have been mistreated and beaten on and kicked around and spit upon for the last four years by this Council. My committee has been ignored. So Mr. Crowder, you can either get on board or you, sir, can just leave me alone.”