WINNSBORO — Sen. Creighton Coleman clarified his role in the potential lawsuits between plaintiffs and three members of Fairfield County Council during a town hall meeting held Monday and moderated by the Fairfield County legislative delegation.
During the meeting, Coleman was clear that he is not going to be the attorney to try a class action case once a lawsuit is filed. Instead, he said he is serving in a fact gathering capacity to assist the attorney handling the case.
Coleman anticipates the paperwork to be filed for the three lawsuits — and involving Council Chairman David Ferguson and council members Mary Lynn Kinely and Mikel Trapp — within the next week.
Coleman said in his advisory role that he considered including an injunction to enjoin the council members of using taxpayer money for their legal defense, but did not recommend because in his opinion, spending county tax money for legal representation is another example of county officials misspending tax funds, an instance he believes would help win a class action lawsuit.
Coleman said having a class action suit is important because any judgement issued by a court would mean the county receives automatic repayment with interest.
He also said people’s assets could be seized to pay off the debt.
Rep. MaryGail Douglas referred to the repayment issue as “a litmus test” for the county council members who received the cash payments.
“Now they want to throw Hinely under the bus … and possibly to use an insurance bond to cover them from errors in judgement that came about from Hinely holding office,” Douglas said.
She counted off the achievements of the Saving Fairfield group and other concerned residents in the past six months, including a change to the reimbursement policy for county council members and having the county check registry placed online.
Blair resident Betty Scott Frazier said a 116-page report arrived from its forensic accountants Friday afternoon and that the county averaged around 7,000 checks per year. Frazier elaborated that the Hobbs group’s forensic auditing process includes checking four years of check registries as well as researching the vendors, especially the top five vendors for the county, to see how funds are spent.
Frazier said she had no personal motive in the investigation but that she just wants to make Fairfield into what the area should be.
“All of us want to get to the bottom of this and know where the money is going,” she said.
Coleman and Douglas both questioned the current county leadership and if it is the right leadership to prepare the county for future success, particularly after audience members raised the possibility that economic growth with Element Electronics was more the affect of state leadership at the department of commerce than the efforts of county leadership to recruit industry.
The discussion made note that Fairfield was one of the last counties to have received an economic development project under Gov. Nikki Haley’s administration.
In other news:
• Douglas again was critical of what she termed the lack of planning process by the county. “There was a plan developed (but evidently it was) never taken out of the file,” she said.
Douglas said council lacked visionary leadership.
“There is too much fly by seat of their pants like with Drawdy Park (where one expense leads to another unexpected, unplanned for expense like the fence around a retaining wall),” she said.
• Audience members also were concerned with perceptions of the Drawdy Park football field project. Some questioned if preferential treatment were shown in awarding a contract for the project. Others wondered if the engineer over the project was qualified for a civil project since they understood he was actually a chemical engineer.
• The delegation and some members of Saving Fairfield reported calling SLED but that no more news was forthcoming on the case involving former administrator Phil Hinely.
• Audience members asked about possible recall of council members. Coleman said he was not aware of any means to issue a recall of county council members but reminded the crowd that elections will be coming up in a little over a year and of the importance to choose candidates to run who represented their values and beliefs. Mikel Trapp, Dwayne Perry, David Ferguson and David Brown are up for re-election in 2014.