Guest Editorial: Martin answers unsigned letter

I am responding to an unsigned letter to the editor titled A Letter from the Resistance, published in the Sept. 27 issue of The Country Chronicle.

Councilwoman Angela Harrison has since come forward to identify herself as the writer of the editorial.

While Councilwoman Harrison is passionate in her beliefs, her comments are patently not factual. She begins by stating that the Ridgeway Town Council is embattled. It is not. There is one council member who has very publicly not been able to accept the newly elected council’s decisions or move forward on positive initiatives for the town.

Listed below are some of Councilwoman Harrison’s exaggerated, erroneous, misleading and absolutely false statements and what I offer as facts that can be verified via numerous online videos of council meetings.

Harrison: “…on the same day the new mayor and council outsourced our police protection to the Sheriff’s Department, they [council] announced plans to spend thousands of dollars on public restrooms…”

FACT: This statement makes it appear that there is a correlation between funds spent on police protection and funds spent on public restrooms. There is no correlation here. The ‘thousands of dollars” that will be spent on public restrooms come from the hospitality tax fund. That revenue is brought in solely by certain of the town’s businesses and is restricted by state law to be used for specific purposes, all of which must benefit the merchants. As a member of town council, the writer should have known that hospitality tax revenue cannot be used to fund the police department or any other town government department as such. Furthermore, we have ample revenue in our hospitality fund to cover the cost of building the restrooms. All of this was thoroughly discussed during council meetings, and Councilwoman Harrison would have known this had she been present for those discussions.

Harrison: …”I know Fairfield County is a huge area to cover with limited resource” [inferring that the Ridgeway council’s decision to contract with the county for law enforcement will limit the town’s protection]

FACT: Regardless of the size of Fairfield County, under our agreement with the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Department, Ridgeway will have as much or more police protection now than it had under our town department. Our agreement with FCSD, provides us the dedicated service of a sheriff’s deputy inside the town limits six hours a day, five days a week. At no time while on duty in the town will that sheriff’s deputy be responsible to cover any other part of the county. In addition, we will still have the same 24/7 coverage we have always had from FCSD’s deputies assigned to our area of the county. This was discussed thoroughly during the August council meeting, one of three that Harrison chose not to attend during July and August.

Harrison: “We can’t expect much, if any, ticket revenue, which means the proposed ‘savings’ from firing the police chief may never materialize…”

FACT: Councilwoman Harrison apparently does not understand that the Town of Ridgeway will no longer receive ANY revenue from tickets under the agreement with FCSD. That revenue will all go to the County now. But the loss of that ticket revenue is greatly offset by the reduction of town expenses related to operating a police department. We will no longer have to pay for a municipal judge, police vehicles, uniforms, salary and benefits and much more. The loss of ticket revenue was factored into the annual savings the Town will realize under its agreement with FCSD.

Harrison: “Town Council tried to fire our police chief, and when all else failed, abolished the police department.”

FACT: While a motion was made at the June council meeting to terminate the police chief’s employment, it was not seconded by anyone on council and the motion died.

FACT: The police department was subsequently defunded, not abolished.

Harrison: “They [the mayor and two council members] set out to malign the Chief’s reputation in the local media. They released old complaints that had been investigated and found useless.”

FACT: No one set out to malign the Chief’s reputation by releasing complaints to the media. The only complaints that, so far as I know, were published in the media, were complaints obtained by The Voice through a Freedom of Information request. Those complaints were not old complaints. They had been submitted during the Chief’s tenure of employment – some were very recent and some had been brought before a public meeting of council in recent months.  Many were investigated and found to be valid.

Harrison: “We received many emails over the summer but the town replied with a form email blast.”

FACT: During a 2- to 3-week period in June and July, 13 complaints were received against two town employees, each of whom, after more than 10 years of dedicated service, had never had one complaint in their personnel files. The validity of those 13 emails was in question. Since none of them contained an address or phone number, I sent an email to each complainant offering that they meet with a council member to discuss their complaint. We received only one response stating that the writer was too busy to meet with anyone. The other 12 did not respond at all.

Harrison: “In response, other council members tried to force him (Councilman Prioleau) to resign as head of the police department.”

FACT: Not true. Councilman Prioleau was given the option to step down and let someone else take over, which he declined. If council members had wanted to force him to step down from those duties a majority vote of council could have forced Councilman Prioleau out. This was not done.

Harrison“When he (Prioleau) refused. They eliminated the department and stripped away his (Prioleau’s) authority over the police department.”

FACT: This is not true. As a member of council, Councilwoman Harrison should know better. Councilman Prioleau is still in charge of all police department activity in Ridgeway and is our direct liaison with Sheriff Will Montgomery in our agreement with FCSD. Furthermore, Councilman Prioleau participated in every meeting with Sheriff Montgomery all through this decision making process of the agreement.

Harrison: “September report came without any bank statement details. When I asked for more financial information, I was told that I would have to file an FOIA request and pay.”

FACT: Councilwoman Harrison requested the information and before a response could be given, she volunteered that she could file an FOIA for the information. While Mayor Cookendorfer explained the requirements for filing an FOIA, it was more from the perspective of explaining the ramifications of what an FOIA entailed. No one ever told Councilwoman Harrison that she would have to file an FOIA. This and other details of the meetings can be verified from video.

Harrison: “We have a great opportunity with grants to install sidewalks…instead of hiring lawyers…”

FACT: Council voted unanimously in April for Councilwoman Harrison to proceed with her work on the sidewalk grant.

FACT: An attorney was hired for advice and opinion after three almost concurrent incidents – 1) the town’s Chief of Police informed the mayor that the town would be sued if council tried to limit his visits to Geiger Elementary school, 2) the NAACP contacted the town about the same issue and 3) WLTX-TV contacted the town about the same issue. (Council woman Harrison has since admitted to contacting the NCAAP and WLTX-TV.) On the advice of the S.C. Municipal Association, the mayor contacted the attorney for advice on how to proceed in handling the police department issue so as not make mistakes that would further exacerbate the issue. The mayor had a tight window and considered the issue an emergency which is provided for in the town ordinances.

Harrison: “I was one of only two council members who listened (referencing those who spoke during the public comments section of town council meetings.”

FACT: As the various videos of meetings will verify, all five council members listen carefully and respectfully to all public comments which are taken into consideration and appreciated.

Harrison: “New limits have been placed on agenda content and even when citizen’s speak.”

FACT: No new limits have been placed on agenda items at council meetings. Councilwoman Harrison, after having missed three council meetings in a row, requested that items be placed on the September agenda to, essentially, catch her up with what had been discussed and voted on during her absence. The mayor felt some of these should have been handled on Councilwoman Harrison’s personal time instead of taking up council’s and the public’s time since all the information from each month’s meeting (during her absence) was sent to her in her meeting packets as well as making each meeting, in its entirety, available to her via video.

FACT: No new limits have been placed on citizen comments at council meetings. On the contrary, citizens are now given double the opportunity that they were given by the previous council to speak at council meetings. Prior to the current administration, citizens were only allowed to speak once – at the beginning of the meeting. They still get to speak on agenda items at the beginning of the meeting. Mayor Cookendorfer, however, has added a second time for public comment. They are now given the opportunity to speak about any subject pertaining to the Town of Ridgeway at the end of each meeting before council goes into executive session. Each speaker is allotted three minutes to speak just as they were under the previous administration.

Moving Forward – While I find it distasteful to air these comments in public, I also feel obligated to refute such derogatory, patently untrue statements about the town council as appeared in Councilwoman Harrison’s unsigned editorial. Such flagrant disregard for the truth is either intended to create chaos in the community or is a result of a complete lack of understanding of the issues.

It is important, at this point, that we all look forward and focus on what good things and opportunities we have in our town – we now own the Cotton Yard, we have a new temporary library and plans are in the works for a permanent library, and we have plans for improvements for our citizens and merchants that we will soon be sharing with you. Pig on the Ridge is coming up and our volunteers are already coming together to make it one of the biggest, most respected barbecue festivals in the state again this year. Ridgeway is truly a wonderful place to live.

Let us all allow our wounds to heal and move forward to our future.

If anyone has questions about these or any other issues, I will be glad to talk with you one on one So feel free to call or email me at any time.

 

Dan Martin

Ridgeway Town Councilman

[email protected]

803-447-7720

Comments

  1. Randy Bright says

    This article should serve to extinguish the fires of hysteria and be a springboard to constructive progress.

  2. Cheryl Hartness says

    I speak for the charity that needs to be shared to the public
    The Pig on The Ridge is listed as Charity Event and why there is not a List as to what the Charity is given, with the monies collected for Charity

  3. Betty Branham says

    A few residents are still upset over the election,they won’t let it move forward,I suppose they are trying to bring their ego to the meetings. The Council is doing great things for Ridgeway, people that don’t think so should stop their gossip and look into the money they are saving the town, thank you Council, and if one wants to pick at each meeting, they should come REALLY prepared.

  4. Frances Miles says

    Thankful to have a few council members that care enough to set the record straight. As for Ridgeway’s rabble rousers, perhaps the untruths would better suit in another town. We are small,but intelligent enough to state facts. Ridgeway is a truly wonderful town,guess some would prefer contention instead of harmony. Shameful that this type of smear campaign makes us all look foolish.
    Thanks Councilman Dan Martin for stating the facts. Our town is better because of your efforts!

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