Legislation session, education discussed at town hall meeting
Kevin Boozer Staff writer
WINNSBORO — Could Rep. MaryGail Douglas propose legislation to require county council members to attend meetings?
That was among the questions raised at the December town hall meeting where Douglas represented the Fairfield County legislative delegation.
As residents were discussing the 2014 legislative session and issues that might be on the radar there, District 3 constituent Richard Johnson asked if Douglas could introduce a bill to require county council members to attend meetings.
Councilman Mikel Trapp has come under fire recently for being absent from meetings of Fairfield County Council.
Douglas said that while a bill could be introduced, the state recently had a bill introduced on flow control to fix something locally and that was chaos in her opinion.
“The Legislature has been burned and is reluctant to spend v to address local problems due to home rule,” she said.
Douglas said the Legislature prefers that counties take care of business locally but she believes the Legislature will be cautious in the future in introduce legislation to fix problems locally, such as a council member not attending meetings.
“Is it fair to introduce a bill (and the costs that involves) to address (conduct) of just one person?” she asked.
Douglas said such a bill likely would not get out of committee so she did not plan to introduce one.
When asked about persuading the county to adopt an ordinance so pay could be withheld from a council member who did not attend meetings, Douglas referred the audience member to his or her county council representative.
Other community members had their own ideas. including Bob Carrison’s suggestion that county bylaws be changed so members would be paid per diem for each meeting they attend. Tim Schroll, who lives in District 6, proposed holding a referendum to change the bylaws.
“If they won’t change it, we will,” Schroll said.
With regard to Trapp, Douglas said legal documents have been served related to his receiving checks to reimburse him for Columbia College tuition. She said the 30-day deadline for him to respond to the suit is approaching. According to online court records, Trapp filed a motion to dismiss on Nov. 26.
In other legislative comments, Douglas said there will be more visibility to bills for veterans particularly on the military subcommittee, in areas such as benefits and mental health. Budgeting and funding for highway infrastructure also will be key concerns, according to Douglas.
Fairfield County Councilwoman Carolyn Robinson responded to audience comments several times, including the issue of the county spending money on lobbyists.
Robinson said the lobbying is being done in hopes of saving money for Fairfield County and she noted how there are groups out there who want to receive a portion of the funds once the two new reactors go online at V.C. Summer.
Robinson pointed out how that arrangement was not worked out in other counties when they had a major piece of economic growth, such as Boeing coming to Charleston, Amazon to Lexington or Michelin to the upstate.
Robinson said it was important to use those areas as precedents and work with the entities lobbying to keep tax revenue generated in one county within that county.
She also responded to a discussion thread regarding the county hiring S2 engineering firm to handle some of its projects.
Jimmy Ray Douglas reported frustration in his attempts to follow the money with regard to county contracted jobs with S2.
He said the county gave him a representative sampling of checks related to projects but said he had no idea where the money went or how it was used once S2 got the checks.
Douglas said he had sent in a Freedom of Information Act request to view S2’s 1099 forms. Randy Bright also questioned the feasibility of using a practical engineering firm versus specialized engineering contracts with specialized engineers whose specialty related directly to said projects.
Robinson responded that the S2 issues and related questions stem from action county council took when she was not on it from 2005-08.
“They chose to give up policy making responsibility and came to agreement to hand over everything to the administrator,” she said, “Yet council members are elected to set policy. It is in our bylaws.”
Jimmy Ray Douglas asked her about her signature being on contracts dealing with S2 and she said personally to her knowledge that she had seen no such contract. Rep. Douglas clarified that County Council made an agreement and former county administrator Phil Hinely signed the contract, not Robinson.
In other news, the group reported the Hobbs Group forensic audit remained a work in process although Betty Scott Fraizer was supposed to see an update within a week of the town hall meeting.
Resident Randy Bright engaged School Superintendent J.R. Green in a lengthy discussion and critique of Fairfield County Schools. Bright mentioned statistics such as poverty index, per pupil spending and low test scores.
Bright wanted to know how the district could, in his view, keep putting money into a school system and yet the test scores be where they are. Green hit on many talking points he has mentioned this year from the STEM early college academy to explaining how free and reduced lunch funding changes what is reported as per-pupil spending.
He also mentioned comments by Dr. Mick Zais, state superintendent of education, with regard to Fairfield County education effectiveness to make his case that although the county is not where it needs to be that its dedicated staff and culture of change is in the process of elevating the district.
Beth Reid, chair of the school board, also addressed the change in the school board and said cooperation and collaboration have increased under Green’s leadership. Reid said several FCSD programs will be presented at a February conference as the standard for other districts to use as a model.
Green acknowledged that the district has had a turbulent past but he called on those present to help the community move forward from looking at Fairfield County eduction from a historical context to instead focusing on what can be done to change things now and make a better tomorrow.
“We must work collectively as a team to change dynamics, not be in an adversarial position where we only speak about tearing it down,” he said.
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