Video, documents contradict claims by council members Bell and Trapp

WINNSBORO – On Feb. 11, at the third council meeting of 2019, County Councilman Moses Bell listened intently to a presentation about a new farmers market.

When the presentation ended, Bell voiced his support for the farmers market work and praised County Administrator Jason Taylor for the county’s participation in it.

“The building, Mr. Taylor, is a really nice building. I’ll tell you what, all that work that’s gone on at that building is just really representative… a really good job,” Bell said.

“When I was talking to the people there, they were saying that it might be [used] for some other activities,” Bell continued. “Talk a bit about that piece because I think the county needs to know. That’s a good deal.”

At Monday’s meeting, however, Bell’s tone shifted dramatically.

Instead of showering the farmers market with praise, he sided with two former county employees, Jackie Workman and Tony Armstrong, calling for an investigation into how the market was funded and accusing Taylor of missuse of funds.

The farmers market expenditures totaled about $162,000, though $30,000 came from a Walmart donation for economic development.

Bell said he thought Taylor should have secured council approval before spending any county money. He accused Taylor of circumventing procurement rules by funding the farmers market incrementally instead of as a lump sum project.

“It appears that our county administrator may have spent money on the farmers market, over $130,000, without council approval,” he said. “It appears our county administrator may have also violated procurement code policies right under the nose of this county council.”

No Violation of Rules

But according to documents obtained by The Voice through a Freedom of Information request and Fairfield County’s own procurement code, Taylor didn’t violate any rules.

The procurement code does not require council approval for any purchases under $25,000. Only two farmer’s market-related purchases exceeded $10,000 and none came close to $25,000, documents show.

“Purchases in amount [sic] up to $15,000 – can be approved by Director of Procurement,” the code states. “Purchases in excess of $25,000 must be approved by the County Council.”

The code does not specify who’s responsible for authorizing expenditures between $15,000 and $25,000, nor does it prohibit the county administrator from unilaterally making individual purchases for the same project.

“So the administrator can spend up to $25,000 without approval?” Trapp asked Council Chairman Neil Robinson.

“We brought this up in the past, about two years ago to amend that [procurement code] to say ‘projects’ over $25,000 instead of ‘purchases’ over $25,000. We can clear up a lot of things if we want to change it,” Robinson said.

“So you were within your authority according to the procurement manual?” Robinson asked.

“Yes,” Taylor answered, “but I would suggest you might want to change that. We could recommend any project exceeding $25,000 has to come before council.”

“Well, I guess we could get together and work on changing that,” Robinson said.

Trapp Claims Racism

 Money wasn’t the only thing driving farmers market opposition Monday night.

Councilman Mikel Trapp also attacked the farmers market, which he said had promoted racial profiling, though he did not elaborate.

“It is not for everyone. It is for a select few,” Trapp said.

Other council members disagreed, throwing their support behind the farmers market.

“The farmers market is used by everyone,” said Councilman Jimmy Ray Douglas. “It’s not used by a certain family or sect. It’s used by everybody, and everybody loves it. I don’t understand why such a big thing is being made of it. That’s not right. This thing needs to be put to rest.”

Councilwoman Bertha Goins said uproar over the farmers market reminds her of verbal attacks made against Brandt Jean, the 18-year-old Texas man who hugged the police officer recently convicted of killing his brother.

On both instances, she said, people are being unjustly attacked for doing the right thing.

“I want to thank the administrator,” she said, turning toward Taylor. “Not long ago, people were saying ‘thank you. We appreciate you. You’re doing a good job,’” Goins said. “But when they don’t agree with you, the knives come out.”

Trapp said he didn’t even know about the farmers market until the ribbon cutting ceremony in May. But that’s also not true.

He can be seen in attendance on the video of the Feb. 11 council meeting when the farmers market was discussed for approximately 15 minutes.

Trapp also attended a county council retreat on April 13, where Taylor gave another report about the farmers market, and members of council also discussed it at length. There are other videos of council meetings as well where the renovation of the market building was discussed openly.

“Economic development brings jobs. Community development makes people who get those jobs want to stay here and spend their paychecks here. And that’s what the Farmers Market and the Market parking lot are about,” Taylor said at the retreat.