Richland County taxpayers will pick up the tab for a long-overdue legal bill owed by the county elections office and former members of its board.
County Council on Tuesday voted to spend $38,740 out of the county’s savings account – separate from the more than $1 million granted to the elections office for its annual operations – to settle a legal judgment from 2015 that it owes am attorney fees from a lawsuit.
County Council has no legal responsibility to help the elections office cover its bill.
Last week, a judge found elections director Samuel Selph in contempt of court for his office’s failure to pay.
Selph needed council’s approval to juggle money in his office’s line-item budget to pay the $38,000.
But interim county administrator Gerald Seals told council Tuesday that the elections office should not be allowed to “raid” money from other items in its budget “in order to contrive payment.”
“That violates policies. It violates principles. ... It also violates laws, ultimately,” Seals said.
Plus, Seals said, taking money out of the elections’ office’s budget would only result in the agency coming back to council later in the budget cycle asking for money to cover a deficit – as the office has done for several years.
Seals was critical of a lack of “fiscal discipline” within the elections office, which council funds but has no authority over.
“This is a unit that habitually exceeds its budget,” Seals said. He called it “malfeasance” for the agency to consistently overspend and “spoiled brat stuff” for it to then expect the county to cover its deficit.
Council voted 8-2 in favor of a one-time payment to cover the elections board’s bill, with councilmen Bill Malinowski and Torrey Rush dissenting.
But even those council members who ultimately supported picking up the elections board’s bill expressed reluctance, some saying it might set a precedent for other situations.
“We’ve got a more serious situation than this out at the Recreation Commission,” Councilman Greg Pearce said, referring to the agency whose director and board members are facing numerous allegations and lawsuits alleging myriad misbehaviors. “If we pay this, and we point out that this is a one-time action, what is going to happen in the future when somebody else comes in here (asking council to pay their legal bills)?”
Two more votes and a public hearing are required before council’s decision to pay the bill is final.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.
No underground utilities for pair of road projects
Atlas Road and Clemson Road will not get their utility lines moved underground as part of transportation penny tax-funded road widening projects, County Council decided Tuesday.
It would cost more than $3 million per mile to move overhead power and communications lines underground for both projects, according to estimates provided to council. The total cost on Atlas Road would be about $9.1 million, and the cost for Clemson Road would be about $6.1 million.
Atlas Road is to be widened to three lanes between Bluff and Shop roads and five lanes between Shop and Garners Ferry roads.
Clemson Road is planned to be widened to five lanes between Old Clemson Road and Chimneyridge Drive.