Bell votes for funding that both he and his wife could receive

WINNSBORO – Fairfield County Council finished some last minute Christmas shopping Monday night, voting at a special called meeting to spend $1.2 million in taxpayer money, including $922,000 in one-time, non-itemized employee bonuses.

The vote passed 5-0, with Councilman Doug Pauley abstaining, while Councilman Neil Robinson was absent.

The ordinance as originally crafted provided $286,000 in hospitality tax funds to the following: S.C. Railroad Museum ($111,000), capital improvements to the Teacherage monument at the County Administration building ($100,000), and to establish a cultural memorial wall on the site of the Martin Blue Moon property in Jenkinsville (75,000).

But a last-minute amendment injected another $922,000 for employee bonuses, with full-time employees and volunteer firefighters with 20 or more points getting $1,500 checks.

Part-time and as needed employees and volunteer firefighters with less than 20 points will get $750.

The amendment does not further itemize how the money will be spent. New hires also get checks, even if they’ve been on the job for only a few days.

Pauley said he abstained because his wife, who would be eligible to receive the bonus, works for the county.

Council Chairman Moses Bell, who did not recuse himself, appeared to take umbrage with Pauley’s decision to abstain. Both Bell and his wife are volunteer firefighters, making them both eligible for the bonus. Councilman Mikel Trapp, whose wife is a county employee, also voted for the employee bonus.

“This ordinance is in the same application, same format, as the ordinance 11/18/21 that we had a council vote of 7-0,” Bell said in defense of his vote for the bonus.

Earlier, Bell cited an unrelated vote in Georgetown, which he said had similar conflict of interest undertones, but the vote ultimately passed because a large group of people benefited.

“Because this ordinance affects a large class, it is very much legal for all members of this council to participate,” he said.

Bell also, during the meeting, falsely accused The Voice of contacting a WIS-TV reporter, who attended and covered Monday’s special meeting.

“I asked him [the reporter] why each time Saving Fairfield or The Voice calls him, he comes with a wrecking ball to hurt this current council,” Bell said.

Councilman Clarence Gilbert voted for the ordinance after voting against it last week during second reading.

Gilbert said the ordinance was hastily assembled, but noted his affirmative vote was strictly to show support for employees.

“While I think this ordinance has been made in haste and not well-thought out, it’s also my understanding employees have been notified they’ll be receiving this bonus,” Gilbert said. “I hope that all employees are included.”

Councilwoman Shirley Greene, who voted for the allocation of the employee bonuses, asked how the county is able to fund bonuses now amid dire budget predictions six months ago. She said numerous constituents have asked her about the apparent paradox.

County Administrator Malik Whitaker was unable to provide an explanation other than to say there are sufficient funds in unrestricted fund balances.

“We can get you the exact numbers. We have been working on getting that,” Whitaker said. “It was there, it is there to cover this. We can get you the details on exactly what that looks like.”

Bell interjected to say that during the second half of 2022, the county has been depositing money into the fund balance. However, he also didn’t provide any detailed financials that would explain the sudden availability of money for employee bonuses.

“Our fund balance from June 30, instead of taking money out, we were able to put money into it,” Bell said. “We’ve been able to use grants and other government funding to help us along. That enabled us to spend that money versus revenues from the county.”

Most citizens speaking during public comments continued to voice opposition to the ordinance.

Ridgeway resident Randy Bright said he supports employee bonuses, but added the ordinance as written was woefully scant on details.

“Strong leaders don’t look for legal loopholes to gain from ordinances. Strong leaders look to do the right thing,” he said. “I’m against hastily drawn up proposals just to make yourselves look better.”

Winnsboro resident Yvette Howard, however, supported the ordinance.

Most of her support revolved around the Teacherage monument and memorial wall in Jenkinsville, though she also thought employees would appreciate the bonuses.

The payouts will come after Dec. 31 to employees on the payroll as of Dec. 19.

Monday’s meeting was the last meeting Bell and Trapp will attend as council members. Both were defeated in the November election. Bell was unseated by Dan Ruff, and Trapp lost his seat on council to Peggy Swearingen.

Ruff and Swearingen will be sworn into office on Jan. 9, 2023, along with returning Councilmen Clarence Gilbert and Douglas Pauley.

Comments

  1. Jeff Schaffer says

    funding his wife… how about funding Robinson with $50,000.00
    Who investigates that kind of taxpayer payments????
    Jeff Schaffer

  2. Linda Moore says

    Sounds like an ethics violation to vote on an ordinance that benefits you or your family.

  3. Mike Bell says

    Jeff,
    Fairfield County Council members have always funded their wife’s and Family members. If you don’t study the past, you will repeat it in the future. For example: Murphy (wife and daughter), Brown (wife and son), Trapp (wife), C. Robinson (son), Neal Robinson (wife), Ferguson (son), Marcharia (son and baby mother), Bell (wife and son), Pauley (wife, ex-wife, daughter). This is a common Fairfield County practice, but I see now that Pauley has found good sense and abstained himself from voting on issue where his wife would gain. This is very honorable to correct his past errors and has long as his wife is employed with the County, he should follow the same policy of abstaining for a personal conflict. This would include future budgets/cola’s that she is a part.
    I am proud to see that Pauley can correct his past errors and set the tone for honesty and integrity to a past council with NONE and start a new day!

    Council and Administration should follow the hiring of relative’s policy to avoid personal conflicts, since they are over all the departments in a council/administrator form of government.

  4. Randy Bright says

    Jeff
    You hit the tip of the iceberg of why Fairfield has so many glaring needs despite having one of the state’s highest per capita revenue streams- too many selfish leaders who put their wants before the citizens needs. Certainly, Pauley and Gilbert are now proven exceptions and should be able to raise the bar of standards with the new council..

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