New council cracks down on expense reimbursements

WINNSBORO – Fairfield leaders are clamping down on the county council’s travel reimbursement policy for individual council members.

On Monday night, the council voted 4-3 on the policy revisions, which set controls on expenses eligible for reimbursement.

Council members Shirley Greene, Tim Roseborough, and Neil Robinson voted against the revisions.

Greene complained the new policy was too vague.

“When we have something that’s nebulous, and this document is nebulous in terms of specificity, we can do better in stating what’s comprehensive,” Greene said.

In 2021, 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, according to an investigation by The Voice.

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

Roseborough ($2,682.68), 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.

Some council members bookended extra hotel room nights outside listed conference dates, while others sought reimbursement for routine travel to council meetings, county records show.

On Monday night, the current council majority voiced support for the new policy.

“I feel like it’s something we need to do,” said Councilman Clarence Gilbert, who has heavily criticized council reimbursements in the past.

Councilman Dan Ruff also supports the new policy, and introduced an amendment that would deny reimbursements to council members who are late in submitting requests. The amendment passed 4-3. He said late reimbursements put an extra strain on staff.

“I never in my previous time [on council], and won’t this time, ask for or receive expense reimbursements for anything,” Ruff said.

Councilwoman Peggy Swearingen said council members shouldn’t need reimbursements since they’re already paid to serve. Council members make $15,000 a year, according to budget records. The Chair makes an additional $4,800, the vice chair an additional $3,000 over what the other council members receive,

“Take your salary and go on home. You knew what the salary was. We don’t need all this other stuff. Take your salary and be done with it,” Councilwoman Peggy Swearingen said.

In May 2022, an investigation by The Voice found several instances of wasteful spending in council member reimbursement requests.

In 2021, Greene and Roseborough zigzagged across the state to attend various economic development conferences in North Augusta, Beaufort, Hartsville, and Orangeburg. Together they spent a combined $3,726.80.

They also billed Fairfield council members for local travel.

Records show Greene sought reimbursement for 44-mile roundtrips to pick up her agenda packets from the county administration building, even though they could have been emailed like they were to others. 

Roseborough also drove 52.5 miles to attend a Fairfield County chamber function, and 30 miles for a Midlands Technical College meet and greet, neither of which were required functions for them as council members to attend, records show.

The policy revisions approved Monday night specifically address local travel.

Council members must submit monthly mileage logs when traveling on county business.

Limits are also set on which events council members can attend. Travel reimbursements to and from the county administration building, which were charged last year by council members Bell, Green, Trapp and Robinson, are expressly prohibited under the new revised policy.

“Mileage will be reimbursed only for those educational, training and lobbying opportunities that are essential to being on County Council,” the policy states. “In-county mileage will not be reimbursed.”

Council members must submit mileage logs when seeking reimbursement. Reimbursement requests must be submitted within 30 days of the month’s end.

The policy also states the county will now provide cell phones and Surface Pros to council members instead of reimbursing them for those items. The cell phones and laptops were issued to each council member earlier this month. Each council member has been assigned an email address so they can receive agenda packets electronically.

According to Interim Administrator Laura Johnson, reimbursing council members for computer and phone expenses cost the county $19,020 annually. Issuing the council members county owned phones and laptops will only cost the county $4,000 annually, saving as much as $15,000 annually.

Greene worried about how council members would get wifi for the Surface Pros, and was told that council members could use their home wifi to connect to the internet.

In other business, Johnson told council that the audit, which is now almost two months late, is still on track to be presented to council on March 13.



    What will it take for the general public to get it? First, it’s $50,000 To Neil Robinson’s wife… and then he’s gone for months and the first thing he wants to do is increase his reimbursements. We the people have made some serious mistakes we have got to get rid of Shirley Tim and Neil next el3ection

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