Fact checking the Ridgeway Candidate Forum

Angela Harrison, mayoral candidate, and Roger Herring, council candidate | Photos from Angela Harrison’s Facebook Live

RIDGEWAY – Of the six candidates in the upcoming Ridgeway election, three of them, Angela Harrison, Roger Herring and Rick Johnson, participated in a candidate forum held last Thursday evening at the Century House and sponsored by the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce. The other three candidates, Heath Cookendorfer, Rufus Jones and Dan Martin, held a community barbeque on Saturday, March 24, where they talked with voters informally about their candidacies.

Rick Johnson, council candidate

Attorney Mike Kelly, a member of the Chamber, served as moderator for the forum, first asking general questions posed by the Chamber and then taking questions submitted from the audience. The forum can be viewed on Angela Harrison’s Facebook page.

Since The Voice does not publish again prior to the election on April 3, the following FACT CHECK of some of the answers given by candidates to audience questions at the forum are published here.

Question: Historically, the majority of the recording and classification of town procedures and disbursements have been handled by one person [in town hall]. The likelihood of honest mistakes is real. If elected, would you continue with the current one-person solution or would you implement a more current, transparent solution?

Answers:

Angela Harrison (mayoral candidate): “From reading the audits from 2006 to the present, it has been recommended in every single audit that we not have a one person system. So I would like to see that change.”

Roger Herring (council candidate): “We need more than one person…our audit recommends that this [having only one person] be changed. It hasn’t been.”

FACT CHECK:

The Town audit makes no statement or recommendation about how many employees the town should have or, specifically, that the Town should not have a one-person system. Instead, the audit states, “during our audit we did not identify any deficiencies in internal control that we consider to be material weaknesses.”

The town actually has three employees in town hall, not just one, according to Town Councilman Don Prioleau, in order to provide internal control over the Town’s financial reporting (receiving, recording, depositing, and disbursing money) – a full time clerk, a part time assistant clerk who works at least 40 hours per month and a part time interim administrator who works at least one day per week and sometimes more. According to Prioleau, internal controls over financial reporting in the Town Hall are handled in the following manner:

  • Town Clerk takes in money.
  • Assistant Clerk makes the deposits.
  • Administrator opens bank statements.
  • Town Clerk reconciles bank statements.
  • Assistant Clerk verifies bank statements with the financial report.
  • Town Council Member (usually the Mayor) and one employee sign all checks.

Question: Would you implement procedures [for the Town government] to allow more public access [to Town government information]?

Answers:

Angela Harrison: I definitely think we need more public access. You don’t have to file an FOIA [Freedom of Information Request] with me. Just ask me. I will hand it to you…When you have a question, just call me, email me, Facebook me. I’ll always give you any document that I have.

FACT CHECK: On Friday, March 30, the day after the forum where Ms. Harrison made this statement, The Voice emailed Ms. Harrison to ask for a copy of the Town’s 2017 audit. Ms. Harrison answered via email that her copy was missing two pages. The Voice emailed back that was fine, and asked for the audit without those two pages. Ms. Harrison did not respond. The Voice made two more requests and four days later, at publishing time, Ms. Harrison has neither responded further to the request nor handed over the document.

Rick Johnson (council candidate): “Yes. You as a citizen ought to be able to come in here and ask how much money does Ridgeway have in the bank, and somebody ought to be able to tell you that. I don’t understand why that’s a real problem.”

FACT CHECK: Contacted by The Voice as to whether he had experienced this problem, Mr. Johnson said, “There is no problem that I know of. I have no specifics on this. I haven’t been involved in Ridgeway government so it’s hard for me to know this stuff.”


Question: How would you implement any changes in the way festivals are run in Ridgeway?

Answers:

Rick Johnson: “I know the [POR] steering committee has always managed it and they do a really great job making it a successful event. However, I think there needs to be oversight by council because the revenue raised by this festival…the oversight needs to come from this council. There’s a difference between a steering committee and this council’s responsibility as lordship over funds and making sure funds are disbursed properly, that things are purchased properly. There’s a fuzzy line there. It has created a problem…”

FACT CHECK: When asked by The Voice, specifically, what problems have been created by the Pig on the Ridge steering committee, Mr. Johnson said, “I don’t know of any specific issue or problem…I’m not saying anyone has done anything wrong or that there’s even a problem. I don’t know of a problem. I have no clue who has oversight over the Pig on the Ridge festival. I don’t know enough about Pig on the Ridge and how it operates to answer the question.”

Roger Herring: “There are too many holes in the festivals that have gone wrong. There should be more accountability for all of them. I think those in charge of the committees who put them on think it’s their festival and they can do whatever they want. But it’s not. So many things of accountability that have gone past, unnoticed and undone. We need new people involved.”

FACT CHECK: When The Voice contacted Mr. Herring to ask him to identify, specifically, what has ‘gone past, unnoticed and undone,’ by the POR steering committee, Mr. Herring declined to comment.

According to Town Hall, Councilmen Prioleau and Heath Cookendorfer and all four members of the steering committee, Town Hall receives all revenue for the POR festival, makes all deposits, keeps all records, writes all checks and Council approves all purchases, expenses and donations. Town Hall (the mayor, specifically) has taken out, kept records for, signed for and cashed all CD’s purchased with revenue from the POR festival. Town Hall creates and issues annual reports and monthly summaries on the festival’s finances for council, the auditor and the media. Those reports are available in Town Hall.


Question: (Addressed to Ms. Harrison) All Pig on the Ridge funds are in the Town government’s control…Why, then, do you say it is the Pig on the Ridge steering committee’s responsibility to report on the Pig on the Ridge festival funds?

Answer:

Angela Harrison: “If it were the town’s responsibility [to report on the POR festival financials], then the town council would have known about the false information filed [by the POR steering committee] with the Secretary of State.”

Response:

Mr. Tom Connor, one of the four members of the POR steering committee, stated (from the audience with permission from the moderator) that Ms. Harrison’s use of the term ‘false information’ inferred that the Pig on the Ridge steering committee had intentionally filed incorrect information with the Secretary of State.

Response:

“I never said that,” Ms. Harrison responded.

FACT CHECK – Mr. Connor gets the point here. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the term false information means to “deliberately and often covertly spread in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.”