WINNSBORO — A Fairfield County Council meeting that began with encouraging economic news turned into conflict Monday night during the second public comment time after sheriff’s deputies had to usher speakers from the podium once their three minute limit ended.
Then, prior to executive session, Chairman David Ferguson threatened to clear the room after applause broke out as a resident was escorted out.
“I asked them, would you like for me to clear the chambers? (The applause when a citizen was escorted out by sheriff’s deputies was inappropriate) and I have that right if a meeting gets out of control per our county’s bylaws,” he said.
Ferguson mentioned a meeting in Newberry County four or five years ago where residents became so unruly that deputies escorted council members from the meeting prematurely. He said he was just doing his job to make sure nothing like that happened in his county.
Ferguson pointed out how members of Saving Fairfield comes back week after week with the same allegations and accusations.
“This thing with (former county administrator Phil) Hinely is over. That was six months ago. SLED investigated twice and we are this far along moving past that, yet (William Turner) brought it up,” he said.
Disagreement between William Turner, a member of the FMH Hospital Board, and Ferguson over water to the county’s industrial park led to Ferguson’s threat to clear the council chambers.
During public comment time, Turner said the county built “a spec building but forgot about water and sewerage.” But Ferguson objected to the manner with which the comments ended. Turner ran over his time limit and talked from the back of the room, prompting deputies to step in.
Ferguson said Turner’s comments were inaccurate since they implied county council did not do its due diligence in planning the industrial park. He said misinformation can hurt the county’s chances to recruit industry.
“(These residents) may think they are helping, but certainly they are not helping bring jobs, industry and investment to the area,” Ferguson said.
He said county council had some explaining to do with the representatives from the Midlands Business Alliance after the public comments section at the meeting but that in his opinion things were clarified with the government officials.
Councilman Kamau Marcharia agreed with Ferguson’s assessment that the current climate at council meetings is not helping the county.
“I don’t think (the members of Saving Fairfield) are doing anything to benefit Fairfield or the alleged objectives they first came into being for,” he said. “Now the group is resorting to personal attacks on individuals. I have heard their accusations but have not seen any of them come forward with problem solving ideas. If you see problems there, let’s put our heads together and come up with constructive solutions.”
Saving Fairfield member Randy Bright publicly commented in the meeting that he was merely trying to use his experiences from 41 years in private industry to look for productive solutions to curb government spending.
“Just because it is in the budget does not mean we should spend it. I believe members of council are well meaning but need to think beyond (the paradigm) of this is all we could do,” Bright said.
He said there would be less animosity if council did not try to “deflect criticisms or blame the messenger” but instead worked to become more transparent and a more efficient source of government.
Needed: protocol and respect
Councilwoman Mary Lynn Kinley did not question the motives of Saving Fairfield but wondered about its methods, saying “protocol and respect needs to be there on both sides so people stay civil and respectful. Chairman Ferguson is just doing his job. He has to keep rules and regulations going for us.”
In Kinley’s opinion council has done due diligence with county construction projects including the industrial park site, relying upon licensed contractors, professional engineers and warrantied contracts.
Kinley said the county originally had letters from the town assuring water would be provided for the park and then the county started the project.
As for the repeated allegations from residents including those associated with Saving Fairfield, (about former administrator Phil Hinely), Kinley responded that “SLED and the solicitor said no prosecution needed be done. He resigned. What more can we do about it (at this point)?”
She said she hopes the county’s residents can come together and help usher Fairfield into a brighter future.
“I feel like everybody could look more at the big picture and work together more right now,” she said. “I would like to see citizens get involved in more positive ways to help our county such as volunteering or serving on boards and commissions, or if they so choose, by running for elected office.”