Richland council expense accounts bedevil new members, too

dhinshaw@thestate.com January 10, 2013 

— When Richland Councilman Torrey Rush was sworn in to office this week, most of his expense account already had been spent by his predecessor.

So an issue that has proved difficult for Richland County Council just got tougher.

For the past year, the council rules committee has been unable to answer what should happen if a council member overspends his or her $7,000-a-year expense account.

Now, the committee is being asked for a proposal on how to handle situations like the one involving Rush, who enters office with $2,145.59 available to cover half the year’s expenses.

His predecessor, Gwendolyn Davis Kennedy, used the remaining $4,854.41 in the first six months of the fiscal year, based on figures provided by county spokeswoman Stephany Snowden.

Rush, the new councilman representing north Columbia, said he’ll make do.

The other new council member, Julie-Ann Dixon, has an entire year’s worth of expense money. Her predecessor, Val Hutchinson, hadn’t filed for any of the $7,000.

Council expense accounts are given to members to cover such things as office supplies, newsletters and conferences.

How to provide expense accounts for new members now lands with the rules committee, which hasn’t made any headway on the related issue of whether there should be repercussions for council members who overspend their expense accounts.

The issue arose after two council members overspent their accounts. Kennedy was one of them.

After a year of on-and-off discussions, Councilman Bill Malinowski said he doesn’t even know whether it’s possible for the county to garnish council members’ wages.

Malinowski has been chairman of the rules committee for the last three years, at least, but may not remain in that position.

Committee assignments haven’t been made for the year yet.

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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