Lawsuit, County Audit on Tap at Town Hall Meeting

WINNSBORO – At a town hall meeting Monday night held by State Sen. Creighton Coleman (D-17) and State Rep. MaryGail Douglas (D-41), 29 members of the public gathered in the Fairfield Central High School auditorium to discuss the future of Fairfield County. The chief topic of interest, as in past town hall meetings, was when and if three County Council members would yield to public pressure and reimburse taxpayers for more than four years’ of cash payments received in lieu of supplemental health insurance.

At Council’s Oct. 14 meeting, Douglas put Chairman David Ferguson (District 5) and Council members Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) and Mikel Trapp (District 3) on notice that a lawsuit was pending against them if they chose not to reimburse the County for the $475 a month they had each received between 2009 and last July. An opinion from the S.C. Attorney General’s Office, solicited by Coleman and Douglas and issued last July, characterized those payouts as contrary to the state constitution. The three Council members stopped taking those payouts in the wake of the opinion, but have given no indication they would repay that money, which comes to approximately $23,000 each. Douglas said on Oct. 14 that Coleman would be handling the lawsuit, but Monday night Coleman said he would not. Coleman would not reveal which attorney would be handling the case, but said the suit would be filed within the next week. Coleman, meanwhile, said he would only be playing a supporting role of fact finding for the litigating attorney.

Kinley said near the end of the Oct. 4 Council meeting said the State Ethics Commission was reviewing the former policy of the payouts in lieu of insurance premiums.

“Once they conclude their investigation, then we’re going to make our decision,” Kinley said Oct. 14. “Once that is done, we will be responding to that.”

But Monday night, Coleman called that position absurd and said the Ethics Commission has nothing to do with the legality of a policy, only with a policy’s ethical standing.

The group also discussed the independent forensic audit of the County, being conducted by Columbia CPA, The Hobbs Group. Betty Scott Frazier Bell said the audit ran to 116 pages and covers 7,000 checks a year written by the County. She said the audit is examining how much money is going out, to whom and how often. The audit also aims to challenge the County’s official explanation of how they handled Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) funds for the last eight years.

The accounting firm of Elliott Davis, LLC, hired by the County to review its accounting procedures in regard to its handling of LOST revenue, reported at a special meeting on Sept. 30 that the County has not been unlawfully accumulating millions of dollars of LOST revenue instead of giving it back as tax credits on property tax bills, as they have been accused by some Fairfield County citizens recently. The County had not, however, used standard accounting practices to apply those credits, Elliot Davis representatives added, or keep accurate records of how much LOST funds were coming into the County each year.

Monday night, the group also discussed the possibility of enacting term limits for Council members and pondered a petition referendum to place that issue before the public in a future election. They also suggested that Council members’ pay should be commensurate with attendance.

The group also discussed fielding a slate of fresh faces to run against sitting Council members in the 2014 election, when districts 1 (Dwayne Perry), 3 (Trapp), 5 (Ferguson) and 7 (David Brown) are up for re-election.

“I’m giving serious thought to running against David Ferguson,” said Eugene Holmes, garnering a smattering of applause. Holmes said he has lived in Fairfield County for approximately five years, moving here from the Washington, D.C., area. Holmes said he has been disappointed by the amount of political apathy he has found in Fairfield County and he hopes to change that.

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