Council in Talks to Repay Funds

Trapp Repaying Tuition Money

WINNSBORO – During the public comments portion of County Council’s Aug. 26 meeting, Winnsboro resident Bob Carrison presented three Council members with a contract that would bind them to repaying to the County approximately $22,800 each that they had been paid in lieu of supplemental hospitalization insurance since 2009. Carrison’s proposal also included a pay-back plan for one Council member – Mikel Trapp (District 3), who was absent from Monday’s meeting – who had also received an additional $26,806 in tuition assistance. During Monday night’s meeting, held at the Fairfield Magnet School, Carrison followed up on his proposal, and said he had heard rumblings that a pay-back agreement had been struck.

“Rumor has it that you have agreed to repay those funds,” Carrison said. “That’s the scuttlebutt on the street, but we have no confirmation of that fact. I would like for you to please take the opportunity tonight to say that you have reached an agreement, to give us the terms of those agreements, and if so then we can go way knowing you have done the right thing, you can go away happy knowing that you have done the right thing, and that the interests of Fairfield County will have been served by your actions. We expect no less. We really want to see the right thing done on behalf of this Council. It would be a good first step, and I highly recommend that you take it.”

Council members are eligible for the County’s insurance policy, unless they are already, through their current or former employer, covered by a state plan, as is the case with Trapp, Chairman David Ferguson (District 5), and, until her retirement from Fairfield Memorial Hospital a two months ago, Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6). Because they were covered by a state plan, the County’s hospitalization supplement was not available to them. Prior to 2009, these Council members, along with all part-time employees, were covered for hospitalization by the Carolina Cares plan. For each of the Council members in question, it was costing the County approximately $877 a month – or $31,560 a year total – to include them on the Carolina Cares plan. As the County worked through attrition to wean part-time employees from the plan, then County Administrator Phil Hinely also asked the three Council members to drop Carolina Cares and take a direct payout of $475 a month each – or $17,100 a year total – to get their own hospitalization insurance. That practice was also under attrition, but ended in July after the Attorney General’s Office released an opinion critical of the payments.

On July 8, the S.C. Attorney General’s Office characterized those payments as inconsistent with state law and stated that, if a court were to confirm that opinion, Council members could be personally liable.

Although Carrison did not get an answer to his question Monday night, Ferguson said after the meeting that he had no plans to repay the premiums, nor was there any discussion or negotiation planned to set up such an arrangement.

“We were told by our Administrator (Hinely) it would save the County money,” Ferguson said. “Our question was, can we legally do that, and he said yes. What about the four others who get full insurance at twice what we were getting?”

Trapp, meanwhile, stopped accepting tuition assistance in June, he said, and shortly after the Attorney General released his opinion began reimbursing the County at $100 per pay period. Tuesday, Trapp said he may consider taking it up a notch.

“I am leaning toward forgoing my entire (County Council) salary until it is paid back,” Trapp said, “but I will make a final decision on that in the next few weeks.”

Contrary to Ferguson’s statement that no negotiations were pending, Trapp also said that a meeting with County attorneys was in the offing for discussions of repayment of insurance premiums.

“I think we’re going to have a meeting on that in the next couple of weeks,” Trapp said.

“We’re still doing some research on (a potential reimbursement plan),” Kinley said Tuesday. “Milton Pope (interim County Administrator) is checking with some attorneys, so we should have an answer soon.”

Kinley said Council had recently received a letter from State Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17), requesting an answer from Council on whether or not reimbursement was forthcoming. She said Coleman wanted an answer by Sept. 25.

“Either pay it back or somebody’s going to sue them,” Coleman said, confirming the letter. Coleman said he personally would not be involved in any potential lawsuit against the Council, but that he has spoken with other attorneys who were considering such action.