Pauley calls out Whitaker for charging group lunch to county

Council awards $50K to settle former employee claim

WINNSBORO – Heated exchanges made it even hotter inside Fairfield County Council chambers Monday night.

As council members fanned themselves in the 85 degree room, questions over county spending reached a boiling point during Malik Whitaker’s county administrator report.

It started when Councilman Doug Pauley asked Whitaker why he sent the county clerk from Winnsboro to Blythewood to buy lunch 90 minutes after attending a Fairfield County function.

Pauley thought Whitaker could’ve bought his own lunch closer to home instead of billing county taxpayers.

“Did you all feel the need to come back to Fairfield County and send Ms. Roberts to Blythewood to Groucho’s to spend $58 of taxpayer money when you were already out and could’ve bought your own meal?” Pauley asked.

Whitaker came armed with a prepared statement. He accused Pauley of soliciting county staff to report on the administrator’s activities, saying the practice makes him feel unsafe and unwelcome.

“I know what you’re trying to imply and I know what you’ve been doing behind the scenes,” Whitaker said. “I would’ve hoped Mr. Pauley would not encourage staff to police their leader. I’m not going to work living in fear of being reported by my own staff.”

When asked by The Voice following the meeting about Whitaker’s accusation that he (Pauley) “was encouraging staff to police their leader,” Pauley said that was not true.

“I was eating lunch in Groucho’s and noticed a Fairfield County truck pull up and a Fairfield County employee get out and come into Groucho’s to pick up a large lunch carryout…like there was a luncheon meeting,” Pauley said. “It was so much food that the manager had to help carry it to the truck. I was curious and  followed up. I was told by the county employee who picked up the lunch that it was taken to the county offices for Mr. Whitaker, Council Chairman Moses Bell, Councilwoman Shirley Green and Deputy Administrator Synithia Williams and possibly two other employees, and that it was paid for with county money,” he said.

“There was nothing behind the scenes or getting an employee to police anyone,” Pauley said. “I was open about my inquiries. That’s how Mr. Whitaker knew about it and was prepared with his explanation. I asked what was going on and was told. I don’t think it’s right for the county leader ship to charge their lunches and live high on the tax payers’ dime just because they can. If I had not followed up, no one would know about it. Mr. Bell gets an extra $4,800 and Mrs. Green gets an extra $3,000 beyond their $15,000 annual council salary to cover their lunches or whatever. They should not be charging their lunches to the tax payers,” Pauley said.

Councilwoman Shirley Greene chimed in to defend Whitaker while chiding Pauley.

She characterized the lunch as part of doing the county’s business.

“I understand that you (Pauley) have some issues with what we do,” Greene said. “I think some additional training may be necessary so you understand your role and relationship to this council.”

“Ms. Greene, you spent $4,100 of taxpayer money,” Pauley countered. “If anyone needs additional training, it’s you.”

Pauley’s remarks follow a recent report by The Voice, which found council members received over $14,700 in 2021 for local travel reimbursements.

Greene led the pack at $4,119.16, according to public records obtained through the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.

Many of Greene’s expenses included routine trips to and from regular council meetings, expenses county employees aren’t allowed to claim, records show.

Greene previously declined to comment to The Voice, but let her feelings be known Monday night.

“Why don’t you drive me to meetings all the time?” Greene asked Pauley. “I live out at Wateree. You want to know how many miles that is? Can you calculate that?”

$50,000 Settlement

Following executive session during the Fairfield County Council meeting Monday night, Chairman Moses Bell asked Councilman Neil Robinson to recuse himself and leave the room before council took a vote on an employee settlement.

“We do have a matter that could be a conflict of interest so we need him to recuse himself.”

After Robinson left the room, Councilman Mikel Trapp made a motion.

“I would like to make a motion to award a former employee $50,000 to settle a claim,” Trapp said, without naming the employee.

It does not appear that a lawsuit was filed in the matter.

There was no discussion before council voted unanimously to pay the $50,000.

Bell could not immediately be reached for comment regarding the settlement.

Contested rezoning, millage rate

In other business, council members passed first reading of an ordinance to rezone 392.49 acres by Gum Springs Road from RD-1 (Rural Residential District) to I-1 (Industrial District).

The vote passed 5-2 over the objections of several residents speaking during public input. Council members Doug Pauley and Clarence Gilbert voted in opposition.

First reading was by title only, so there was no council member discussion.

Council members also voted unanimously to set the county millage rate for 2022- 2023.

The approved millage rate is 182.3, up one-half mill from 181.8, which had been in effect for the past six years.

Finance Director Anne Bass said the only increase this year was an extra 0.5 mills added to the library fund.

Bass also said 1.5 mills were transferred from debt service to the general fund. She said one mill of tax on a $100,000 house is about $4 annually, so the library millage increase would add about $2 of tax to the same property value.

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