WINNSBORO — Fairfield County Councilman Dwayne Perry attempted to improve relations between the county’s citizens and its government when he stepped up to the public podium during Monday’s regular scheduled meeting.
Perry, the vice chairman of council and the District 1 representative, walked across the chamber floor to make his comments from the same side as his constituents and began a speech/conversation that lasted 35 minutes.
“I wanted to come on this side because I wanted to make sure everyone felt comfortable tonight and to eliminate any walls that may exist,” Perry said.
Perry acknowledged that he has been on the public’s side of council and knows what it feels like to tackle difficult issues.
He said the last 10 months have presented any challenges to council along with frustration expressed by the public.
“It has been very troubling and I imagine from your (public) standpoint very frustrating,” Perry said. “Just because we’re quiet sometimes doesn’t mean we’re not listening. I was always told that God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we should do twice as much listening as we do talking and I’ve tried to do that. I always take notes when y’all come up to the podium.”
Some challenges council has faced include pornography allegations with former county administrator Phil Hinely, local option sales tax, reimbursement policy to council, money spent on a Hilton Head conference, insurance and education payments to council members.
“It was a crisis,” Perry said.
When in Washington, D.C., recently, Perry said the main objective while meeting with the delegation was to improve the county and council. He attended three classes while there.
“Right now the victims would be you all as you see it and the way council has handled some situations,” Perry said. “We (council) need to own the problem. Phil Hinely was the administrator, but we voted on a lot of things so we need to be held accountable as well.”
He referenced a survey that stated 95 percent of Congress said the most important thing was staying in touch with their constituents. Yet only 16 percent said that Congress stayed in contact with them.
“That’s a big difference and I thought about (Fairfield County) council,” Perry stated. “I don’t know what those numbers would be, but maybe the same thing. I hope that the reason we’re running for office is not to be self serving but to serve. That’s why we’re here. You pay our salaries, but you also elect us to make decisions.”
Perry acknowledged that council is listening to the public’s suggestions because many of the recent changes have been a direct result of public concern.
Some of those changes include the revision of the internal procurement process, revising the county’s budget and FOIA process, creating a request of actions process where all spending is brought to council for a vote, the committee process, public document transparency where the county is one of 15 counties to have certain check registrar documents online, changes in bylaws and increased public input sections.
The public wants a back and forth dialogue that resembles a town hall style meeting.
Perry said he is open to speak to citizens after meetings or via email and always tries to respond to all inquires.
“We’re public servants and I’ve always tried to serve,” he said.
County administration had been entertaining questions from the public via email to promote a positive back and forth conversation between taxpayers and council government and Perry would like to see council get back to that process.
“Maybe a regular council meeting is really not the forum for one on one conversation,” he stated. “Maybe a town hall session would be better, where there is no agenda and more of one on one dialogue. Maybe that’s something we need to take a look at because we should listen to y’all.”
Following Perry’s comments during county council time, Councilman Kamau Marcharia said Perry was out of order allowing a back and forth conversation with the public, but Perry said he did so with the prior approval of Council Chairman David Ferguson.