Fairfield Council members spend while cutting back departments

WINNSBORO – Three Fairfield County Council members traveled to a seaside resort last summer to learn more about county government. They registered for a few classes and stayed extra nights.

These expenses and others highlight an apparent pattern of frequent travel, double billing and other fiscal abuses found during a review of council member reimbursements.

They tell a story of council member excess at a time when other county departments have been ordered to freeze or cut back their budgets.

“Just because you are allowed to take reimbursements doesn’t mean you are allowed to rob the taxpayers blind,” said Councilman Doug Pauley, who says he’s not accepted reimbursements in the past six years.

Councilman Clarence Gilbert also didn’t seek reimbursements from taxpayer money. He motioned at the last council meeting for council members to cut their annual base pay from $15,000 to $10,000, but the motion failed 5-2.

“It’s so frustrating,” Gilbert said. “The way things are going now, it’s going to take the next council to get the county back to where it needs to be.”

Free time in Hilton Head

Although County Council pay levels lead other small counties (under 25,000 residents), some Fairfield  council members relied on taxpayer money to attend conferences across the state, billing residents for over $13,000, according to documents obtained through the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

A majority of that sum got spent at a four-star seaside resort in Hilton Head during the 2021 S.C. Association of Counties annual conference.

Chairman Moses Bell and council members Tim Roseborough and Neil Robinson stayed at the Hilton Head Marriott from July 29 to Aug. 3.

Their $8,672.30 bill covered lodging, conference registration, classes and daily per diems, records show.

Though they stayed six nights, none of the council members registered for a class after Aug. 1. It’s unclear how Bell, Roseborough and Robinson spent their time Aug. 2-3.

Roseborough declined to comment when reached by telephone.

Neither Bell nor Robinson could be reached for comment.

Pauley and Gilbert said annual conferences do have value, but neither thought their colleagues should’ve stayed extra nights at the taxpayers’ expense if they weren’t attending educational sessions.

“All the classes offered at the conference were available to us online,” Pauley said. “Considering our cutbacks and how tight Mr. Bell says money is for the county right now, I think they should have considered passing up the vacation last summer and viewing the classes online from Fairfield County.

“That’s a total disrespect of taxpayer money,” Pauley said. “If your classes are up, then it’s time for you to come home. There’s no sense staying another day or two just to have a vacation.”

Gilbert said staying extra nights feeds the public perception that conferences are merely taxpayer supported vacations.

“If they stayed on a couple of days; that tells me they used that as a vacation,” Gilbert said.

Bell signed up for three classes during the Hilton Head conference while Robinson registered for only two, according to county documents. Both appeared to preserve July 29-30 and Aug. 2-3 as open dates, records show.

The conference didn’t hold any events on July 29, according to an official schedule.

On July 30 and July 31, the conference offered its “Institute of Government” class at four different times.

Monday, Aug. 2 included several more classes that included “Councils of Governments Executive Directors,” “Probate Judges,” “Rural Caucus and Urban Caucus Meetings,” another “Institute of Government” session, and an unspecified workshop. A banquet and dance followed.

The conference concluded Aug. 3 with a “General Session” that started at 9:30 a.m.

Roseborough registered for five classes from July 30 to Aug. 1, but still appeared to keep an open schedule Aug. 2-3, records show.

Hilton Head Marriott nightly rates were $275 per night during the conference, so staying overnight Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 cost Fairfield County taxpayers approximately $1,650. Records do not show the county was reimbursed.

Billing records also suggest Bell, Robinson and Roseborough drove separately to the conference, despite staying at the same resort for the same duration.

Each reported driving 390 miles, resulting in individual mileage reimbursements of $218.40 per person (the county pays 56 cents a mile).

It’s unclear why council members didn’t carpool when doing so would’ve saved $436.80.

South Carolina road trip

Council members Shirley Greene and Roseborough spent even more time driving in 2021.

Greene and Roseborough zigzagged across the Palmetto State, attending various economic development conferences in North Augusta, Beaufort, Hartsville and Orangeburg.

Each submitted mileage reimbursement requests for precisely 786 miles, generating $880.32 in combined mileage costs, according to financial records obtained through the FOIA.

Greene and Roseborough also spent a combined $2,846.48 on lodging in their respective road trips, or $3,726.80 in total travel expenses excluding parking fees and per diem allotments.

Their travel costs came as a result of attending the S.C. Economic Development Institute, which offers a series of economic development and business-related courses in various South Carolina cities.

Fairfield financial records don’t state how much the 2021 courses themselves cost, but the institute’s website states this year’s courses cost $1,200 per person, or $300 per course.

Greene declined to comment.

“I just want you to know that I have no comment for your article,” Greene said in a voicemail.

According to its website, the institute provides a “highly interactive curriculum,” which offers a “greater ‘hands-on’ economic development experience.”

The courses didn’t appear to pay dividends back home, however.

The county is now searching for an economic development director. Ty Davenport, the former director, recently resigned to pursue other opportunities.

Pauley thought Davenport’s departure carries serious repercussions for the county’s future economic development prospects.

“Ty did a great job for the county. Our greatest asset pretty much went to our biggest competitor, Richland County,” Pauley said. “Ty knows everything about Fairfield County economic development and now that knowledge is going elsewhere. The county shouldn’t have let that happen.”

Other odds and ends

In addition to travel costs, five of the seven council members – Bell, Greene, Trapp, Roseborough and Robinson – received a total of $14,714.40 in miscellaneous reimbursements.

Greene spent the most, invoicing the county $4,119.16 in expenses. Council Chairman Bell billed the county $3,338.57.

Roseborough ($2,6822.68), Trapp ($2,373.61), and Robinson ($2,200.38) rounded out the top five.

Council members Pauley and Gilbert didn’t seek or accept reimbursements, according to documents obtained by The Voice.

Both told The Voice that they thought that’s what the $15,000 salary [that they receive as council members] is for.

In addition to the $15,000, Bell, as chair of council, receives a supplement of $4,800 over what the other council members receive for a total of almost $20,000 annually. Greene, as council vice chair, receives a supplement of $3,000 over what the other council members receive.

The five council members’ reimbursement payments consisted of a variety of ordinary day-to-day expenses, such as cell phone, internet service and office supplies.

Some of the five were reimbursed for local and regional travel, though some requests seemed hard to justify.

For example, five of the council members sought and received mileage checks to attend council meetings. County staff members are not reimbursed for the cost of commuting to work.

“To me that’s ludicrous,” Gilbert said. “They’re just draining the county, sucking the county dry.”

Some council members also submitted mileage requests for various photo ops or social gatherings.

“They’re claiming everything that they can claim,” Pauley said.

Individual expenses raise more questions.

In May 2021, Councilwoman Greene sought reimbursement for a 322-mile trip to Greensboro for a meeting with the International Civil Rights Museum director. The trip cost taxpayers $180.32, records show.

It’s unclear what direct bearing the Greensboro meeting had on county business.

“That kind of stuff is just crazy. We have to give back too,” Gilbert said. “A little reimbursement is OK, but we’ve got people out there who are hurting financially.”

A month later, Greene sought reimbursement after driving 44 miles to pick up a “review packet” from the county building.

In December 2021, Roseborough drove 52.5 miles to attend the Fairfield County Chamber of Commerce’s annual drop-in. He also drove 30 miles for a Midlands Technical College meet and greet.

Records show Roseborough was compensated for both trips.

Bell, the council chair, drove 74 miles to Midlands Technical College as a “county rep” for May 2021 graduation ceremonies. He made the trip again a month later for an unspecified groundbreaking.

Both trips were to Columbia, which is outside Fairfield County, and cost $82.88 in mileage expenses.

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