Bell claims council members are county employees, eligible for ARP

Video Differs with Media Report on Bell’s Brush-Up with 1st Responders

Fairfield County Coroner Chris Hill displays some of the protective gear first responders must wear while speaking at the council meeting.

WINNSBORO – In a confrontation with Fairfield County first responders following last week’s county council meeting, a video showed Council Chairman Moses Bell, when asked whether he thought he was a county employee, responding, “Yes, I am.”

During a council meeting earlier that evening, Bell and council members Shirley Greene, Michael Trapp and Tim Roseborough voted to pass first reading of an ordinance that would make all full time employees, including each council member, eligible to receive $1,200 from the first $2.2 million installment of the county’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds. A second $2.2 million installment will be received in 2022. The vote also gives $600 to all part-time employees and $200 to all temporary employees, including poll workers, for a total payout to employees of $460,000.

But according to ARP guidelines, council members are likely not eligible for the funds.

While council members receive salaries, insurance, retirement and workers compensation paid for by the county, a state official, in answer to an inquiry by The Voice, said council members are considered employees for tax purposes only, that they are not employees of the town subject to town personnel policies or eligible for additional payments to employees.

Council members not eligible

The U. S. Treasury’s final interim rule on ARP funding only designates premium pay for essential workers, and it is unlikely that council members can qualify as essential workers.

According to the state statue, when council votes to increase pay to its members, that increase cannot be implemented until after council’s next general election.

In a July 8, 2013 ruling, the S.C. Attorney General stated, “The General Assembly shall never grant extra compensation, fee or allowance to any public officer…

“Although the language of this provision expressly prohibits only the General Assembly from taking any such action, we have repeatedly advised that it also serves to limit political subdivisions, such as counties and municipalities, at least in the powers delegated to them by the General Assembly. Ops. S.C. Att’y Gen., 2012 WL 6218333 (Dec. 4, 2012); 2002 WL 1340428 (May 9, 2002).

“Our Supreme Court has defined ‘extra compensation’ for purposes of Article III, § 30 as “any compensation over and above that fixed by law or contract at the time the service was rendered.” State ex rel. McLeod v. McLeod, 270 S.C. 557, 559, 243 S.E.2d 446, 447-48 (1978).

Councilmembers Clarence Gilbert, Douglas Pauley and Neil Robinson, who said they were not included in creating the ordinance, voted against it, saying that essential workers in hazardous jobs like first responders should get the bulk of the ARP disbursements for employees.

First responders push back

It is that issue that brought 40 or so Fairfield County first responders to last week’s council meeting to protest what they felt was the majority 4’s inequitable distribution of the ARP premium payments. Prior to the meeting, four speakers – Fairfield County Coroner Chris Hill, Jennifer Fitch of EMS and citizens Randy Bright and Jeff Schaffer – supported the first responders’ viewpoint. 

While another media stated that public comment speaker Jeff Schaeffer was ejected from the meeting, a video of the meeting confirms that while Bell called for Schaffer to be ejected, he was not.

That media also reported that first responders “left in a huff” and “wait[ed] outside until council adjourned,” and “engaged in a heated discussion with Council Chairman Moses Bell until a concerned citizen encouraged Bell to ‘leave for his own safety.’

Video shows no danger

But a video of the scene outside the county building more accurately shows that Bell was never in any danger from the first responders, and that it was a South Carolina Law Enforcement (SLED) agent, in attendance on a separate issue, who placed his hand on Bell’s shoulder as Bell was shouting at first responders. The agent then guided Bell to his truck and suggested that he get in his truck and go home. Bell complied, but rolled down his window and shouted accusations at the first responders as he drove off.

While the video of the encounter shows the situation becoming boisterous, it also shows Bell thrusting himself into that escalation time after time, unlike Trapp, Green and Roseborough who exited the building, acknowledged the first responders, then got into their cars and left without confrontation.

The video shows Bell readily participating in a shouting match with first responders. Three times he started to get in his pickup truck to leave, each time turning back to the first responders, most of whom were across the street from him.

“You all didn’t say a word when they didn’t give you a dime,” Bell shouted several times, referencing comments he’d made earlier that evening in chamber that blamed members of a previous council for refusing to give CARES Act money to first responders a year earlier.

 “Last year, [former Councilwoman] Bertha Goins suggested that we give the essential workers – to include EMS and the sheriff’s department – a bonus pay,” Bell said. “Members from Saving Fairfield got involved and it didn’t even get to the agenda.”

That didn’t happen

Councilman Neil Robinson said that is incorrect.

According to Robinson, the proposal to give CARES Act funds to first responders last year was made by Goins and himself, but that it was Bell who balked at giving the CARES money to the first responders, Robinson said. “He wouldn’t cooperate in funding the first responders unless all the county employees got the same money, just like he’s doing now. He caused such a ruckus that the proposal never went anywhere, never even got to council for a vote,” Robinson said. “It was not Saving Fairfield’s or other council members. Sometimes Mr. Bell gets very creative in how he remembers things.”

Another sticking point with first responders, Gilbert, Pauley and Robinson was the ordinance’s allocation of $500,000 for recreation in Trapp’s district – $350,000 for a park in Blair and $150,000 for park upgrades at Willie Robinson Park – instead of to first responders.

“Is that $500,000 for recreation a bonus, too?” one first responder called out to Bell, mocking Bell’s insistence that the ARP payouts to employees was an employee bonus since they had not received a raise last year.

The ordinance allocated payouts for the following:

  • $350,000 for a mini park on Overlook Road in Blair, Trapp’s district
  • $150,000 for upgrades to Willie Robinson Park, also in Trapp’s district
  • $8,000 for a Community in Schools program
  • $500,000 to repair a DHHS building roof
  • $75,000 for a project manager position in Economic Development
  • $30,000 to repair a fire truck engine

“We don’t know yet which of these are actually allowed by the U.S. Treasury’s interim rule for payout,” Pauley told The Voice. “We have a lot to look into before paying out this money.

The third and final vote on the ordinance is set for 6 p.m., Monday, Nov. 8, in council chambers.

CORRECTION: The story originally said that Willie Robinson Park is in Councilman Bell’s district. That was an error. It is in Councilman Trapp’s district.


  1. Jeff Schaffer says

    I now hope that lots of you at home who are even more ticked at this regime of rubber stampers and do zero for this county are going to show up for the county council meeting and RING Mr BELLS bell, We are sick and tired and not going to take it anymore.

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