County Feeling Heat from Angry Public

State Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17) slammed Council for not following up on the Santee-Cooper economic development plan.

FAIRFIELD – The Fairfield County Council came under fire again Monday as citizens packed the meeting room and sounded off about board expenditures, economic development problems, recreation needs and local option sales tax questions.

Adding to the turmoil was a report from State Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17) that the negative news reports on former County Administrator Phil Hinely may not be over.

Coleman said the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED), “had additional information that was found on Mr. Hinely’s hard drive” and had it sent to Sixth Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield for review.

“I called to see if he could expedite it and he said he had a full plate in court, and will get to it as soon as he can,” Coleman said.

Hinely resigned from his post June 28 after reports surfaced that he used his email account to forward pornographic images three years ago. SLED opened a file on the case but took no action after Barfield determined that none of the alleged images violated state obscenity laws.

In his three-minute presentation to Council, Coleman slammed the Council for failing to follow up on a $40,000 economic development plan submitted by Santee Cooper years ago.

“We sat on it, sat on it, sat on it” he said. “I talked to the Chair two or three times trying to get movement from him. Nothing ever happened.”

Some of the harshest comments came from Fay Sandow, who said she was “appalled” to learn that SLED met with the Council Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) Feb. 21 on the issues with Hinely, but that Council took no action until June, when it voted unanimously to sanction Hinely.

Sandow said it was even more shocking to hear of the decision of a Council member to accept county money for college tuition and insurance reimbursements.

“If that’s the truth, and I believe it is, I would like to ask those Council members what were they thinking?”

The State Attorney General recently issued an opinion that the County’s policy of tuition assistance and health insurance reimbursements for Council members was unlawful.

Some Council members were receiving a direct, monthly payout instead of receiving the health insurance coverage provided by the County. The County was also paying for Councilman Mikel Trapp (District 3) to take business courses at Columbia College.

Sandow said it is her opinion that anyone who accepts money from the county for personal use is “stealing.”

She called on those Council members who have been drawing the money to pay it back with interest, apologize to the county and submit their resignations.

Some members of the audience started clapping at the conclusion of her remarks, but Ferguson pounded his gavel and threatened to have deputies escort out of the meeting anyone who claps.

State Rep. MaryGail Douglas (D-41) called on the Council members who received payment of insurance premiums, estimated at around $24,000 each, to pay it back. She also called for the return of the $26,000 in tuition money paid to Trapp.

Trapp has agreed to return the tuition money, but he said it would take some time to repay. He said he thought the total amount was $22,000, but added that he could be mistaken.

Resident Beth Jenkins told the Council that residents are due better than “a Council that teeters on the brink of what appears to be nothing but wrong-doing from a disgraced resigned Administrator to health insurance double dippers…”

Tuesday Ferguson reiterated his position to The Voice that he had no intention of reimbursing the County for the health insurance premiums.

“I don’t feel like I’ve gone anything wrong, even though they’ve hung me out to dry,” Ferguson said. “Mr. Hinely told us we didn’t have any choice on that.”

In other action, the Council recognized the County’s new interim administrator, Milton Pope, who officially begins his duties this week. Pope, who served as Richland County Administrator before his retirement, said he hoped to help the County with economic development, having worked with Midlands development projects in the past.

The Council also gave second reading approval to revisions of an ordinance regulating abandoned buildings, manufactured homes and junked cars. The Council also approved an ordinance revising sections of the road paving program.

The Council also agreed to purchase property for a mini park in District 3 on Road 99.

Council met in executive session to discuss an economic development plan, but no details were announced.

Council will hold a special called meeting July 29 to discuss the outcome of an investigation into allegations that the County had mishandled more than $5 million in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) funds. The meeting will be held at the Fairfield Magnet School at 6 p.m.

Ferguson said the County’s research indicates that the funds were handled correctly and a full explanation will be offered Monday night by a former director of the S.C. Department of Revenue and County auditors. Ferguson said members of the audience will also be able to submit written questions to Pope following the meeting and that Pope would provide answers on an individual basis at a later date.

 James Denton contributed to this article.