Questions Raised Over County-Pope Contract

WINNSBORO (Sept. 15, 2016) – A contract signed by the County last June to retain former interim County Administrator J. Milton Pope as a consultant may have skipped a step on its way to execution, according to some members of County Council.

According to the minutes from the May 23 meeting, Council came out of executive session and voted unanimously “to extend an agreement of retainer to Parker Poe Consulting, LLC for six months, pending approval of terms.”

The motion was put forward by Mary Lynn Kinley (District 6) and seconded by Dan Ruff (District 1).

While Ruff said this week that he did not recall the exact details of the motion, Kinley initially told The Voice that it was her impression that once the terms had been hammered out, the contract would come back to Council for a final vote.

But that did not happen.

On June 3, Chairwoman Carolyn Robinson (District 2) signed the deal on behalf of the County.

“Who was supposed to ‘approve the terms’ is my question,” Kinley said.

Noting that more than three months have passed since the vote and that her memory was not entirely clear, Kinley later added that it was possible that the terms had in fact been approved by Council by the time the deal was signed.

The memory of Councilman Billy Smith (District 7), meanwhile, is crystal clear.

“The phrase ‘pending terms’ is not confusing,” Smith said this week. “It means we would be bringing those back to look at them and approve them. That’s why it was put in the minutes that way – we would send it (the contract) out to them (Pope and Parker Poe), we would look at the terms and see if they were amenable. My understanding was Council would look at those terms and approve them, revise them, negotiate them, send them back – whatever. We never did that.”

Smith said it was approximately three weeks after the May 23 vote that he learned that the contract had been signed, sealed and delivered – without Council approving any ‘terms’.

Councilman Kamau Marcharia also said he was under the impression that Council would have a final review of the terms before the County officially entered into the deal.

“I think it should have been brought back,” Marcharia (District 4) said. “Somebody’s got to make a decision on something like that. ‘Approval of terms’ – by who?”

The minutes do not answer that question, but Smith said Council has a track record of delegating responsibility when it should not be doing so.

And while Kinley said Council should possibly revisit the matter, Smith said such a thing was not likely.

“Maybe I’m just resigned to the point that Council has in the past had a Chair who was allowed to do whatever they wanted, unrestricted, without any oversight,” Smith said. “It’s not something I support, but at the end of the day, a Chair can only do as much as Council will allow them to do. This is just one of many different things where the Chair has gone beyond the scope of our bylaws.”

Phone calls to Robinson were not returned at press time.

The agreement between the County and Pope (doing business as Parker Poe Consulting, LLC) keeps the former interim Administrator on retainer for six months, terminating on Dec. 31. The County agrees to pay Pope $3,500 a month for, among other things, Pope to “monitor” legislation that may impact the County’s fee-in-lieu of taxes deal with the SCANA Corp., as well as to assist in the “transition process” of new County Administrator Jason Taylor.

Pope will also, according to the contract, serve as “a resource to County Council regarding past County projects, policies and/or operational questions.”

The addendum to the contract comprises a list of 38 County projects for which Pope will make his services available, including an Animal Control ordinance, economic development plan/implementation, recreation and public safety projects, the budget process and phase two of Commerce Park. The list also includes Courthouse relocation, the hospital, the County’s proposed commerce mega-site in Ridgeway and water and sewer issues.

The deal went into effect on July 1.