Dinkins challenges Blythewood Town Council’s transparency

Upset with the town government, Byron Dinkins got the attention of Town Hall and Blythewood residents by towing several tattered cars, a boat and eventually a toilet onto his property, in full view of Blythewood Rd.

BLYTHEWOOD – During Monday night’s town council meeting, town officials and town center property owner Byron Dinkins had their say about the approval process for a 50-foot natural gas tank for Dominion Energy that was placed next to Dinkins’ property on Blythewood Road in early December.

Byron Dinkins

Dinkins said Monday night that the tank did not comply with town ordinances, and that he didn’t feel he was getting straight answers from the town government about its involvement with the approval process for the non-compliant chain link fence around it.

Dinkins got town hall’s attention on the issue by towing several tattered cars and a boat – all bearing orange spray-painted comments calling out the town government and mayor – onto his property, but in full view of Blythewood Road. The comments included: “Welcome to Blythewood,” “Bias Politics,” “Who is your mayor?” “Shame on the Town,” and “What’s good for the goose…”

The result was a several-days-long Facebook ‘sitcom’ right out of Mayberry.

As Facebook lit up with hundreds of comments, Mayor Bryan Franklin’s immediate reaction was to deflect blame onto two of his fellow councilmen.

“We are in a court case now which involves possible collusion from one or two councilmen, but we can’t comment now,” he commented.

Next, Franklin suggested the vehicle stunt was being investigated, and that he would “let law enforcement complete their investigation.” When Dinkins showed no signs of backing down, Franklin said he was going to allow Dinkins to leave the vehicles. However, he did not say what authority he would have to remove them since they were 10 feet inside Dinkins’ property.

One former sheriff’s deputy, who is also a former town official, commented on Facebook that “this is something that cannot be tolerated. Hope we can pull some video from Fairfield Electric and the school to see what turns up.” He also suggested the vehicles were in the right of way.

Within 24 hours, a Richland County Sheriff’s deputy went onto Dinkins’ property to post an orange tag on the vehicles that read, “The Richland County Sheriff’s Department has observed this vehicle to be unattended.” There was no ticket.

In his opening remarks at the council meeting, Dinkins asked, tongue-in-cheek, if law enforcement had finished their investigation.

He went on to note that while deputies tagged his boat that was sitting on his property on short notice, an abandoned car down the road had been sitting on the edge of the pavement in front of Food Lion for a week and had not been tagged.

Dinkins also didn’t like that the tank ended up on property next to his because Cobblestone residents, who were the benefactor of the fuel, would not provide space in their neighborhood for the tank.

Dinkins told council members Monday night that he had been “stewing” over the tank next to his property for six or eight weeks before he towed the vehicles onto his property.

“I have an issue with something that is ugly and dangerous and can slip in [next to a property] and no one in the community can have a say about it.” Dinkins told council. “If it’s good for Dominion, it should be good for all,” he said. “That’s not right. I would like the administrator to provide me with the ordinance that allowed this to go into place.

“You said this was an emergency,” Dinkins continued. “It’s not an emergency. It was poor planning. Some asked why I didn’t go to the meeting with my complaint. There was no meeting. Others asked why I didn’t just put up a sign to say what I wanted to say. There’s a town ordinance against that.”

Dinkins said he contacted Mayor Bryan Franklin on Dec. 6 to express his concerns.

“Mayor Franklin said he was shocked, that he knew nothing about it.” Dinkins said the mayor said he would get back to him, but didn’t.

Franklin interrupted to say he contacted Dinkins’ son.

At a town council meeting on Dec. 8, Town Administrator Carroll Williamson said he didn’t know what was going on with the property until about 4:30 p.m., Dec. 6 when he posted a stop-work order on the site, only to learn the project had been permitted by Richland County.

But earlier that day, a little after 2 p.m., a town hall official told The Voice that the town did know about the project and that it was a “temporary natural gas stabilization site.”

On Dec. 7, Williamson said he met with a Dominion official and that work on the site resumed.

Another sticking point with Dinkins was that the town allowed Dominion to install a chain link fence around the tank.

It was finally determined during the back and forth Monday night between council and Dinkins, that Williamson did approve a non-conforming temporary use for the tank, as well as a chain link fence to “hide” the tank.

On Wednesday, The Voice asked Williamson why he also approved the chain link since it did not, after all, hide the tank, and he answered via email.

“The trailer and fencing are temporary, so that was driving my decision-making,” he wrote. “The trailer was due to arrive in the next day or so and the fence posts had already been installed.  My thinking was to require some kind of screening as quickly as possible.  Landscaping for a short time with no irrigation to keep the plants alive, particularly large plants, did not make sense to me at the time.  And they would also have not likely survived the deep freeze that we had at Christmas, resulting in lots of dead plant material to further the poor appearance of the site.

“I understand it’s not ideal, but I thought it was the best decision at the time,” Williamson wrote.

According to Councilman Rich McKenrick, the town’s ordinances allow the town administrator to issue non-conforming, temporary permits and can make such decisions as to whether to allow a chain link fence – which is not allowed to circle a building in the town on other properties – and other things.

McKenrick said, further, that the administrator is not required to obtain approval from council and is not required to even inform council, the mayor or the neighboring property owners. 

Blythewood businessman Larry Sharpe, who owns the property where the tank sits, told The Voice that Dominion has a one-year lease on the property and that it can be extended up to two years.

Dinkins noted that the Sandy Level Baptist Church and Subway have recently been held to the town’s rules, but that Dominion and other businesses are not.

“Guys, that gas tank going up is an eyesore. It is an ugly eyesore. I didn’t get any messages or phone calls from the Town of Blythewood [about the tank],” Dinkins said. “This is not my style to be enemies with the mayor, administrator or council members,” he said. “Is Blythewood picking and choosing? Does it depend on who you are?

“We elect our officials for a reason,” he continued. “We trust them, we want them to look out for us and tell us the whole truth.”

“Enough is enough,” Dinkins said. “We can’t have any more of this ‘keep it quiet and no one will know’ politics in this town.”

On Tuesday morning, Dinkins removed the vehicles from his property. 

“The agreement is that they get through the winter to make sure Cobblestone has their fuel,” Franklin said.  But he said he agreed with Dinkins, that “we need to take Cobblestone to task for saying they didn’t want it,” Franklin said.

Franklin assured Dinkins in the meeting that the tank is truly temporary and that if it is not moved by the end of March, that the Town will sue Dominion.

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