The Voice is latest target of County Council majority’s purge

WINNSBORO – The Voice newspaper is the latest head to roll under Fairfield County’s new council majority that was seated in January.

Last week, the following announcement was posted on the county’s Facebook page:

“Please be aware, effective immediately, Fairfield County will no longer use The Voice of Fairfield County for ads and legal notices…”

A week earlier, county officials notified The Voice’s staff that Fairfield County Administrator Jason Taylor had been instructed by  Council chair Moses Bell to immediately switch the county’s advertising from The Voice to The Country Chronicle, which is published out of Camden.

This followed other recent purges by the council majority, including a vote on Jan. 25, 2021, for a tenuous extension of Fairfield County Administrator Jason Taylor’s contract for only five months, and pressure on the county’s attorney, Tommy Morgan, to resign (effective March 1.) Other high level employees have made sudden departures from the county’s employ as well.

The final move to cut all advertising to The Voice came after months of verbal and emailed instructions from Bell pressuring Taylor to switch to the newspaper of Bell’s choice.

In an email dated Jan. 12, 2021, Bell took a new tack, trying to convince Taylor that, “The Voice newspaper has not been a friend to our communities.”

During council meetings, Bell publicly criticizes The Voice and urges citizens to support other newspapers.

“Mr. Bell does not like hearing the truth,” Councilman Douglas Pauley said during Monday night’s council meeting. “He has found out that he cannot bend The Voice to his will and make them write what he wants. He would just rather shut them down.”

Criticism Turns Racial

Bell’s two-year war on The Voice added racial terminology during a June 8, 2020, council budget meeting. Misput that a Voice reporter had characterized him as ‘pitching a fit’ over several proposed budget expenditures during the May 26, 2020 budget meeting, Bell lashed out. 

“The Voice …is attempting to place a knee on the councilman’s neck,” he claimed in reference to the killing of George Floyd, an African-American whose neck was pinned to the ground by a white police officer until Floyd died, igniting tensions over racial injustice across the country and the globe.

“Why does the county support The Voice?” Bell asked. “Maybe because of their hit list” he said, without explanation.

County officials have pushed back against Bell’s demands to stop advertising in The Voice, saying they are unwarranted.

Circulation Matters

In preparing a written response to Bell’s insistance that the county switch its advertising to The Country Chronicle, Johnson said she looked at total circulation of both newspapers and at their qualifications to publish legal notices in Fairfield County.

Looking at the months from August, 2020 – January, 2021, Johnson said printers’ affidavits for the two newspapers showed The Voice’s circulation in Fairfield County was approximately 17,130 per month while the Country Chronicle’s was 4,468 per month.

A report on the issue by then County Attorney Tommy Morgan concluded that a newspaper’s circulation numbers directly relate to the newspaper’s qualifications to publish legal notices in a particular area.

Morgan noted that the S. C. Attorney General’s Office opined that “[t]he legislative intent… in the various statutes dealing with notice by publication in a newspaper is to make use of the publication most likely to give the notice to the intended recipient,” Op. S.C. Att’y Gen., 1984 WL 249918 (June 27, 1984) (emphasis added).

That, Johnson said, equates to circulation.

 “The Voice has a physical presence [office] in Fairfield County whereas the Country Chronicle does not,” Morgan wrote in his report. “Moreover, the social media/web presence of The Voice is much stronger than the Country Chronicle’s.”“In this particular case,” Morgan stated in his report, “the county has received complaints from citizens that prior legal notices run in the Country Chronicle have not been read. Specifically, persons have stated they did not check that newspaper as they believed The Voice of Fairfield County (“The Voice”) was the “local paper,” Morgan wrote.

Recommendation

 Morgan concluded, “It is my opinion the Sole Source Procurement provisions of the Fairfield County Procurement Manual as amended on Aug. 1, 2019, could be applied should there only be a single publishing entity that meets the general requirements. In light of the circumstances, The Voice could be considered as being in lack of competition for its services and is unique as to its ability to reach the majority of the citizens of Fairfield County. Accordingly,” Morgan wrote, “the decision to award a contract to The Voice to print the County’s legal notices would not have to be put out to bid.”

Johnson’s report also noted that of the two newspapers, only The Voice is approved by the S.C. Department of Revenue (SCDOR) to publish public notices for individuals and entities seeking an alcoholic beverage license (ABL) or permit in Fairfield County.

“My recommendation is to continue to use The Voice newspaper for county business,” Johnson wrote in a summation of her report that was submitted to Taylor on March 10, 2021, and obtained by The Voice through a Freedom of Information request.

“I am aware that Chairman Bell has instructed you [Taylor] to use The Country Chronicle rather than The Voice,” Johnson wrote. “My review does not support his directive. This decision is a part of the day-to-day operation of the County and, therefore, is within your purview as the County Administrator.  However,” Johnson wrote, “if Mr. Bell continues to instruct you to change newspapers regardless of the information that clearly supports my recommendation, please have him sign and date the bottom of this letter, signifying his directive to do so.”

It was Taylor, however, who penned a comment at the bottom of the letter, as he said Bell refused to discuss the report.

“Laura, per my conversation with Chairman Bell, he is not interested in meeting to discuss your review of the issue concerning newspaper advertising. He simply wants it switched from The Voice to The Country Chronicle,” Taylor wrote.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: While the county is no longer advertising with The Voice, our goal is to continue our watchdog role in keeping the citizens of Fairfield County informed of the goings-on in all the Fairfield governments. The Voice is a small business and is dependent on revenue from advertising and subscriptions to stay in business. Citizens who wish to stay informed and support The Voice financially can do so by subscribing here.  The Voice is also available in the red newspaper boxes situated around Fairfield County.

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