WINNSBORO — Do coded county economic development projects represent confidentiality key to negotiations or does the code represent secrecy and lack of transparency?
After learning some limited details about a potential new economic development project coded Project Compact, some residents requested more information of council, particularly as it related to Project Palmetto, the project that brought Element Electronics to Winnsboro this fall.
The questions about county economic development followed a specially called 5 p.m. county council meeting that contained an executive session to discuss a potential contract with an existing company related to economic development in the county.
County Council Chairman David Ferguson said Project Compact was not something he could comment on specifically, but that it “would be great for the county if it worked out.”
Council also met in executive session to discuss a possible location for Project Compact.
“It is common in South Carolina with economic development incentives that council has ordinances in title only for these incentives,” interim County Administrator Milton Pope said. “On second reading, the full ordinances will offer more information the can be responded to. By third reading, more information is presented (and it is voted upon in final reading).”
Pope said Fairfield had no knowledge it was competing with Sumter County during that economic development process for Project Palmetto. Pope said State Secretary of Commerce Bobby Hitt and his staff at the Department of Commerce vetted the project.
Ferguson followed Pope’s comment with an explanation of how the economic development process, complete with codes for business suitors, is a function of Home Rule and the process “has to be this way” as projects are brought forward throughout the state.
Ferguson said if a name were mentioned then businesses “might pull out of the deal because the powers that be would not feel they could believe the people who are keeping the signatures of confidentiality. We must stand behind (this approach) or lose the projects and jobs in the county.”
That issue again was mentioned during the second public comment session. During that session, citizen Randy Bright commended Pope and council for the new format and the willingness to respond to citizens’ questions.
He suggested the county consider more ways to incorporate timber production into its strategic plan. Pope responded that the county’s economic development alliance is interested in timber projects or wood pellet projects, provided the right one comes along.
When allowed time to respond during county council time, Ferguson told the audience in a tone that sounded sarcastic how “adverse publicity really helps us when we are out on the trail trying to bring jobs to Fairfield County, it really does.”.
In other business:
• Ferguson reported Pope had the paperwork on his desk to move the water from Columbia into the new industrial park and for the sewage to move back to the Winnsboro portion of the system.
• Council unanimously approved buying UHF repeater transmitters to strengthen radio communication in the area for emergency responders. The request adds mobile repeaters to all ambulances, and adds a transmitter to the Cook Road water tower for a cost of $71,739.69. The county has applied for a grant. Pope said if approved about $29,000 would come from the operational funds item in the county budget.
• Councilman Kamau Marcharia pointed out how resident Beth Jenkins has repeatedly mentioned things she has reported to the state ethics commission but, per state law, that neither he nor any council member can speak to the presence or absence of an ethics investigation.
He also said, with regard to the Hilton Head controversy, over 300 elected officials attend, as has the president and other dignitaries. He noted there is fierce competition and it can be difficult to find lodging.
“I accepted what county staff found and appreciated their diligence to secure an appropriate place,” Marcharia said “Not to be crass, but I don’t intend to pay one cent back. There was no swindle here. If I go to jail, I go to jail.”