Investigation Accuses Greenwood Co. Council Of Breaking The Law - WSPA.com

State Investigation Accuses Greenwood Co. Council Of Breaking The Law

Posted:
GREENWOOD COUNTY, S.C. -

Updated: April 10, 2013

The South Carolina Ethics Commission is accusing Greenwood County Council members of violating state laws.

The Greenwood Index-Journal reports that the commission released a report Wednesday slamming county council for its prior practice of giving council members money up-front to cover expenses they might incur while serving in office.  

The fund, classified by the county as "indistrict expense", came to light when the Index-Journal requested payroll data from the county manager.

The paper reported the payroll listed two categories of income for county council members: "regular salary" and "indistrict expense".

Council members receive an annual salary of $8,000 with the chairman getting $11,240. But from 2008 to January 2011, five members of council received $147,718 in indistrict expenses that came with few restrictions and little accountability, according to two council members.

The Ethics Commission says because of a statute of limitations, charges may never be filed for that fund.

The report points to the following law that says, "action may not be taken on a complaint filed more than four years after the violation is alleged to have occurred, unless a person, who by fraud or other device prevents the discovery of the violation."

The fund started in 2008. The Ethics Commission says they can only go back four years.

According to the report, some council members could be in trouble for a separate council fund, used for miscellaneous expenses. The report also shows some council members had inconsistencies in their statements of economic interest forms.

The Ethics Commission will meet May 15 to determine if any charges will be pursued against the individual council members.

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Updated: May 15, 2012

Greenwood County Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to ask the State Law Enforcement Division and the South Carolina Ethics Commission to investigate the council's prior practice of giving council members money up front to cover expenses they might incur while serving in office.

Over a 3-year period from 2008 to early 2011, five council members received more than $147,000 in "in-district" funding.

They were not required to provide receipts showing how they spent the money.

Councilwoman Edith Childs told us the she used her share of the money - around $30,000 dollars - to pay utility bills and rent for low-income citizens, and to build a gravel road for a neighborhood.

Council member Mark Allison, who did not accept the money, says he called for an investigation to reassure taxpayers that nothing illegal happened.

The practice was stopped last year after Allison suggested it was not a wise use of resources.

Updated: May 9, 2012

Greenwood County Council Member Mark Allison is calling for a state investigation into the indistrict expense funds received by other council members.

"I'm not saying it was illegal," says Allison. "I don't know. But I know we need to restore trust and transparency in county council and I believe an independent investigation is the best way to do that."

He sent a letter to chairman Robbie Templeton, suggesting the SC Ethics Commission or the Attorney General could investigate the spending of the money and determine if any laws were broken. At a committee meeting Tuesday night, Templeton said he supports the move and will put the matter up for a vote at the next full council meeting on Tuesday, May 15th.

Allison says after he took office in January 2011, he questioned the legality of the policy and county attorney Chuck Watson told him it was legal. Council ended the policy shortly after that.

Council member Chuck Moates says he supports the idea of an investigation.

"I don't think it will uncover any wrongdoing, but the public needs to see that and we need to clear the air so we can get on with the business of the county," said Moates.

Patrick Moody still has not returned multiple calls seeking comment on how he spent the money. Templeton has also refused to return multiple calls asking for his opinion on the process.

Posted: April 30, 2012

Several Greenwood County Council members are under fire for supplementing their salaries through a fund that was unknown to taxpayers until now.

The fund, classified by the county as "indistrict expense", came to light when the Index-Journal requested payroll data from the county manager. The paper reports the payroll lists two categories of income for county council members: "regular salary" and "indistrict expense". Council members receive an annual salary of $8,000 with the chairman getting $11,240. But from 2008 to January 2011, five members of council received $147,718 in indistrict expenses that came with few restrictions and little accountability, according to two council members.

"All we were told by the county attorney is that we had to spend it on things in our district," says District 1 council member Edith Childs.

She says funding for the expenses was approved in the annual budget starting in 2008. She says she doubts taxpayers were aware it was approved.

Over the three year period, Childs earned $28,873 in indistrict money. She says she spent it in various ways, including paying rent and utility bill for low-income constituents, putting up Crime Stoppers signs, building a gravel road for a neighborhood, buying refreshments for community meetings, and buying fuel for her car. She says council members were not required to turn in receipts for expenses.

"I have receipts for everything except the gas for my car, but I never turned them in," says Childs.

She says the payments came in the form of monthly checks for about $775 after taxes. She says she stopped taking the money because she learned it is counted as income and could affect her retirement benefits.

Council member Gonza Bryant says he stopped taking the money because "someone advised us it was not a wise use of funding", though he could not remember who advised council of that. He received $30,111 and did not keep receipts for his expenses.

"I'm not sure what I spent it on, honestly," says Bryant. "Travel and stuff."

Patrick Moody received $31,377 and Bob Jennings got $29,635. Moody has not returned multiple calls seeking comment. Jennings says he has nothing to hide.

"I've done nothing wrong, nothing illegal, and have nothing to hide," says Jennings. "I was fairly reimbursed for real expenses I incurred while serving the people of my district. I reported all of this as income on my state ethics commission reports."

Jennings says council members decided to stop taking the money when they developed the budget for 2010-11.

"We weren't coming out of the recession and knew it was time to tighten up our belts, just like everyone else was having to," says Jennings.

Former council member Rhett Dominick received $27,722.

Council Chairman Robbie Templeton also has not returned calls from WSPA seeking comment at this point. He did speak to the Index-Journal and said he did not accept the money because "I didn't think it was the right thing to do... I can't justify it in my district."

Council members Mark Allison and Chuck Moates and former council member Dee Compton also did not accept the money.

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