Council challenged to report on beach trip

WINNSBORO – As Fairfield County Council members prepare for an annual conference at another seaside resort, one resident has a simple message for when they come back.

“Let us know what you’ve learned,” said Ridgeway resident Randy Bright, a frequent advocate for good government.

Bright’s cautionary words came during Monday night’s council meeting in reference to the S.C. Association of Counties’ annual conference next week at the Isle of Palms.

Given the conference’s high price tag and beckoning beach, Bright urged council members explain how Fairfield taxpayers will benefit from their trip to the beach.

“As opposed to coming back and saying we learned something, come back with specifics,” Bright said. “One way you can do that is to … assign each council member one key subject of all the meeting topics to either present at council or on the county’s Facebook page.”

Historically, council members have spent generously at the annual conference with very little to show for it.

In 2021, when the conference was held at a four-star Hilton Head resort, three council members spent over $8,600, according to The Voice’s review of county spending documents.

Records also found that council members stayed up to six nights for a four-day conference.

Bright didn’t oppose the conferences, but he asked council members to spend taxpayer money much more wisely.

“This is a long running sore spot with citizens that we don’t get anything out of that money, that you guys just get a t-shirt that says ‘I Went to the Isle of Palms,’ and the taxpayers paid for it,” Bright said.

Council members didn’t respond to Bright’s remarks, nor did they address the conference during County Council time, where members sometimes discuss matters of personal interest.

Previously, council chairman Doug Pauley and Clarence Gilbert spoke critically against overspending at conferences.

“If your classes are up, then it’s time for you to come home,” Pauley told The Voice in May 2022. “There’s no sense staying another day or two just to have a vacation.”

This year’s conference is scheduled for July 31 to August 3.

It’s being held at the four diamond Wild Dunes Resort, incorporating the Boardwalk Inn and Sweetgrass Inn. Rooms booked in July and August begin at $348 a night, which doesn’t include a 16% resort fee plus tax, according to the Boardwalk Inn website.

Resort amenities include two golf courses, a spa, and numerous restaurants.

According to SCAC literature, the conference “provides a dynamic educational experience with opportunities for one-on-one interaction, strategizing, small group discussions and large group learning,” according to the SCAC website.

The conference program includes seminars covering a wide variety of topics, including emergency management, building intergovernmental relations, and economic development.

Bright said Fairfield taxpayers deserve a full report on what was learned and specifically how county residents will benefit.

“Let’s hear what you learned and how you learned it. Bring us into the circle,” he said. “If we don’t know why you went, if you can’t justify going, we have to wonder if we should even send you next time.”

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