Tolar launches runoff challenge rapping Banning

tflach@thestate.comJune 11, 2014 

LEXINGTON COUNTY SC Challenger Ned Tolar kicked off the runoff contest for a Lexington County Council post Wednesday accusing incumbent Bill Banning of ethics lapses

Tolar’s claims of “abuse of public service” are off-base, Banning said.

The exchange came as Tolar seeks to expand his appeal as more than an anti-tax crusader in the June 24 showdown with Banning.

Tolar’s attacks centered on:

• Banning’s role as an economic development consultant with business groups and foundations that Tolar said “actively push” tax hikes. Banning began work with the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce in 2011 to help promote regional cooperation among several organizations in economic development.

• Holding a chamber job “doesn’t pass the smell test,” Tolar said. “It’s hard to imagine he would have been given this job if not for his position.” Chamber leaders cited Banning’s experience in working with local officials and company executives in hiring him.

• Joining five other council members in selecting Alliance Consulting Engineers as an adviser for development of a $268.1 million package of projects paid for by a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax. The plan is slated to go to voters countywide for approval Nov. 4. Council members selected Alliance last fall after privately interviewing a half-dozen firms, citing the company’s experience in shaping such packages. It is receiving $450,000 as panel adviser. Tolar said it should have been put out for bids, but Banning said that isn’t done for professional services.

• Supporting a $25,000 allocation to a foundation which he has advised. Banning abstained from voting on the allocation but later supported the county spending plan in which it is included, records show.

Banning expressed surprise that the tone of the two-week face-off in District 8 immediately turned negative. “They’re attacking with misrepresentations,” he said.

Tolar finished second to Banning in Tuesday’s ballot in a three-candidate field, with the runoff required because no one garnered more than 50 percent of ballots cast.

The success of anti-tax forces in pushing Banning into the runoff isn’t surprising, some officials said.

Tax advocates “expected some kickback” at the polls, Batesburg-Leesville Mayor Rita Crapps said.

Former Councilman Billy Oswald, eliminated after finishing third in Tuesday’s outcome, is backing Tolar. “I don’t want to see the person who started it (the tax plan) win,” Oswald said.

Banning spearheaded development of the tax plan while council chairman last year, saying there is no other way to make long-delayed improvements happen.

The battle over the tax and ethics overshadows Banning’s emphasis on his experience as a major player who helped bring in scores of jobs through online retailer Amazon and Nephron Pharmaceuticals.

His race with Tolar is taking place in neighborhoods stretching west from West Columbia across the Oak Grove area to the east side of Lexington and along part of the south shore of Lake Murray.

It’s an area that would benefit from the sales tax plan. About $15 million in it is earmarked for a dozen improvements for roads, water and sewer, two recreation paths along the lower Saluda River and library renovations.

Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.

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