Rocky Start to Intergov Pow-Wow

WINNSBORO – Last week’s quarterly Fairfield County intergovernmental meeting turned out to be more than just dinner followed by a few mild mannered reports from the various County/Town government representatives. Following the reports, County Council Vice Chairman Dwayne Perry (District 1) unexpectedly lit into State Rep. MaryGail Douglas (D-41) for how Perry perceived the County delegation (Douglas and State Sen. Creighton Coleman [D-17], not present) had piled on during County Council’s recent trials and tribulations. Following that, Winnsboro Mayor Roger Gaddy proceeded to set Perry and the County Council straight on a thing or two.

Following dinner and the last report, the meeting host Mayor Gaddy asked if there were any more comments. Perry turned his chair around to squarely face Douglas and addressed her.

“I’d like to go back to August when someone came up to me and said ‘Your County delegation must have it in for the County,”’ Perry said. “On TV you talked about the insurance issue and there were other comments about the Council. My impression was there’s a trust issue between the delegation and Fairfield County Council. I think we need to talk about this,” Perry challenged as Douglas listened.

“The Council was blasted on TV about not working with the Town and for stealing money from tax payers (in the form of) insurance payments,” he continued. In reference to an State Attorney General’s opinion solicited by Coleman last summer that was damaging to Council in regard to its policy of tuition assistance for Council members and their long-standing practice of health insurance reimbursements, Perry said, “The AG’s opinion brought in July, the prevailing opinion over 30 years, said the things being done were being done right, but it sounds like we were being unethical.”

Perry said he was looking at the way people outside the County saw Council. While Perry did not address the fact that both Douglas and Coleman were instrumental in bringing a lawsuit against Council members David Ferguson (District 5), Mikel Trapp (District 3) and Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) over the insurance and tuition payment issues, he talked on for about 10 minutes blaming what he called a lack of cooperation from the delegation for much of the recent public criticism of Council concerning insurance and tuition payments and LOST (local option sales tax) money. Perry told Douglas that while he and County Council had a good understanding with Ridgeway Mayor Charlene Herring and with Winnsboro Mayor Gaddy, he did not feel that same relationship with the delegation.

Douglas said she agreed there are some issues of distrust but that the delegation “didn’t cause all of this.” Douglas told Perry that they “were not voted into office to like each other but to do the right thing for this County.”

When Perry finished scolding Douglas, Gaddy asked Perry if he was through, then addressed Perry.

“For a number of years the (County’s) tax structure has been very high compared to other counties of our size. (Council) was able to do more like take over the EMS and support the hospital . . . doing some things that other counties can’t do, (counties) that aren’t as fortunate as we are to have (tax money from) a plant like V.C. Summer,” Gaddy said.

“But when the people look around and see the number of new vehicles the County gets every two or three years, the amount of spending that’s going on, they get real frustrated,” he said. “This last turmoil is just another blip in a long, ongoing distrust of County Council where there appears to be reckless spending and more spending and not living within their means as well as they could. I don’t think it (tax money) is always spent in the most cost-effective way. I think the County is perceived by citizens as not keeping as close an eye on the dollar as if it was their dollar. I think the citizens finally got frustrated and now they’ve got a vocal group they never had before. Do I agree with all the Saving Fairfield Group is doing? No. I think they are sometimes overzealous. Do I think Council has room for improvement in how it does things? Yes.”

Gaddy said the current turmoil gives the Council an opportunity to correct some things, put those things behind them and start working together for the betterment of the citizens. He also said he felt the Town and County were beginning to work more closely together to bring jobs to Fairfield.

Gaddy pointed to the recent industry coming to the former Manhattan Shirt Factory building as the first time the County has ever come to the Town to say, “’What can you do for us water wise? What can you do for us with electricity?”

“It was also the first time the Town was willing to discount the cost of these things to try to attract the industry,” Gaddy said. “That’s a very positive step that should have been done all along. If you’re bringing in industry, what you want to know is, ‘What about utilities?’ The City can certainly supply water. You would think someone would have asked about water. That has now occurred on the last two industry recruitments. And,” Gaddy added, “we appreciate the County doing that. It shows a willingness to work together to bring industry in here, to do what’s best for the Community.”

Earlier in the evening, Gaddy called on each Board or government representative for the following reports.

Representative Mary Gail Douglas said she has been working with AT&T to bring internet access western Fairfield County. “They are prioritizing their schedule to help us with this,” Douglas said, “and the next 18-24 months is probably our best window of opportunity to get something done on this.” She said she had also been working to get funding from the S.C. Department of Commerce to enable Elite to upgrade to the point that it can meet the specifications to build circuit boards for Boeing. That, Douglas said, would bring some Boeing contracts and dollars to Fairfield County. She also reported that she had been successfully helping the Veteran Affairs office in Winnsboro to form a volunteer Advisory Board to help plan special events for the local Veterans Affairs office.

Milton Pope, Interim Administrator for Fairfield County, addressed several past, current and future issues, among which was Element Electronics. The general contractor, Hood Construction, has been onsite since Oct. 15 to complete the necessary renovations needed to Element to move into the building. The company hired Carl Kennedy, a Fairfield native, as the Human Resources Director. “Mr. Kennedy is working with Element management to finalize job descriptions, benefits package offerings and other critical items needed prior to beginning hiring,” Pope said. “The Company estimates that it will be in a position to begin advertising for jobs the first week in December. The equipment is on order and should arrive in Winnsboro mid-December.” Pope said that once the equipment has been installed, Element will bring the first wave of workers on board to begin training. He added that Element estimates that the 50 people needed to start up operations and run the first line will begin training in mid-January.

Beth Reid, Fairfield County School Board Chairwoman, reported that the Board elected officers last week. She was re-elected Chairwoman; Andrea Harrison, Vice Chairwoman and William Frick, Secretary. Reid praised the board and the District for improvements she said they are making. She reported that the Career Center expects to break ground in March or so. She also announced that both she and Superintendent J. R. Green have been invited by the S.C. School Board Association to present on the changes in the District at the Association’s annual meeting in February. “They want to know how our new relationship between the Board and Superintendent has brought improvements to the District. I’m excited to be a part of this change.”

J.R. Green, Superintendent of Fairfield County Schools, reported that “Things are going wonderfully in the District. Fairfield Magnet School has recently been named a semi-finalist for the Palmetto Finest Award. It also received an ‘Excellent’ report card rating from the state. The District received an ‘Excellent’ improvement rating.” Green said things are on track. “We’re looking at magnatronics, a new program we’re thinking of adding to our program that is aimed at education for advanced manufacturing.” Green also praised the District’s STEM early college academy. “What these kids are exposed to is about as rigorous as you’ll find,” Green said. He also heaped praise on the District’s football team, the Bow Tie Club and the Group Mentoring program. Gaddy told Green that he was pleased to see the change in the school system. “It means a tremendous amount to us,” Gaddy said.

Charlene Herring, Mayor of Ridgeway, reported on the many festivals and holiday events coming up including the Holiday Parade on Dec. 1; Christmas on the Ridge, Dec. 6; a very successful Pig on the Ridge earlier in the month and she had praise for the Fairfield County law enforcement that she said has helped the Town in so many ways including gang awareness and crime prevention. She praised the merchants for the good job they do to enhance the Town.

Roger Gaddy, Mayor of Winnsboro, reported that while the Town government had been focused on forming a water authority this last year, that project is now on the back burner since some of those that would be needed to form the authority have decided to drill more water wells to meet their community’s water needs. Gaddy discussed the current problem of manganese causing discoloration in the Winnsboro water system, but gave assurance that it posed no threat and should soon be taken care of. He proudly talked about the recent restoration of the Town Clock to its original look. He also reviewed that the Town is in the process of making an offer to the Friends of Mt. Zion (FOMZI) to take on the restoration/renovation of Mt. Zion School. “We’ve been around and around for eight years with this and this time we’re going to set some very strict codes and see if it can finally happen. If it doesn’t in a specified time period,” he said, “then it will come down.”