The often-maligned Richland County elections board on Tuesday got a rare apology and a promise to get nearly $434,000 transferred to its budget.
“The Elections and Voter Registration office deserves an apology from me,” county administrator Gerald Seals told council with members of the elections board sitting in the audience in council chambers. “There were some things that were reported to you erroneously,” he said of statements he made about fiscal irresponsibility on the part of elections officials.
“I was the one who reported it,” Seals said, referring to some $400,000 in cost overruns and mounting legal bills for the elections office that he said was reported to him. Seals did not say publicly at Tuesday’s meeting where he got the incorrect information.
But in September, council voted to pay a $38,000 legal bill from an attorney who sued the elections office and won in court.
At the time, Seals called the payment of the bill a “raid” of county money and said that it violated policies, principles and the law.
“This is a unit that habitually exceeds its budget,” he said of the elections board during the discussion last year. Seals called the board’s actions “malfeasance” and “spoiled-brat stuff” for the board to expect the county to cover its deficit.
Not only were those criticisms inaccurate, Seals asked council to vote to transfer $433,988 to the elections and registration office. Council gave the first of three required votes to move the money.
Newly named elections director Rockey Suleman said his understanding is the money will be moved from the county’s General Fund to the elections office budget after the final vote.
Elections board chairwoman Adell Adams, who was in the audience Tuesday, later said, “We’re satisfied with that.” Adams and the board have long complained that the elections office is underfunded.
Gills Creek greenway
A unanimous Richland County Council gave the final go-agead for the construction of a Gills Creek greenway. But first, it put stronger conditions on the sometimes-controversial proposal to build the pedestrian and bicycle pathway along a portion of the creek.
▪ Before the county would use $2.2 million in penny sales taxes to build the 1.3-mile stretch, the city of Columbia must approve a legal agreement that commits the city to maintain the greenway and provide security for its users.
▪ Council agreed to sign with any neighborhood that asks a legal agreement pledging not to shift a half-mile portion of the greenway from the creek’s western bank. Earlier this year, the county floated a plan to move the stretch of greenway from Rosewood Drive south to Mikell Lane from the eastern bank to the western bank after some neighborhoods protested. But critics continued to say the county could change its mind. A legal agreement would bind the county.