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Friday, January 28, 2022

Pickens County $6 Million a Year Road Tax Is It Really Legal?

 


Below is a post by Pickens County Councilman, Alex Saitta on his Facebook Page which sheds a great deal of light on the present situation. Please share your thoughts about what has taken place in our county with this tax hike in the comment section.

Councilman Alex Saitta

"I want to update you on the latest development with the 9.6 mill/ $6 million a year road tax passed by the county council.   


State Attorney General, Alan Wilson, weighed in on an aspect of the council’s tax hike being above the state millage cap (see picture 1). Prior to his legal opinion, the county council was told, and the administration and their lawyers thought the 9.6 mills/ $6 million a year tax hike could ALL be used for maintenance road re-paving.

Alan Wilson said only $3.2 million or up to the 5.3 mill legal cap could be used for maintenance road re-paving. The remaining $2.8 million above the cap could only be used for long-term road projects. 

Now what is a long-term road project? That is up for debate, but let’s review the history and we’ll get into that. 

History:
On September 13th the Pickens County Council voted 5 to 1 (I voted “No”) to raise taxes $6 million or 9.6 mills to raise money for maintenance road re-paving. The state law (Act 388) limited the tax increase to 5.3 mills or $3.2 million, but the council went above the cap by 4.3 mills or $2.8 million because they used that extra money to create a road reserve account. The law allows a local government to breach the cap if they use the extra funds to “maintain a reserve account” (picture 2). 

I saw this as a scheme to get around the legal cap in order to raise taxes more, not create a road reserve account per se. The roads department doesn’t need a reserve account (the roads department sits in the general account which has a $23 million reserve that serves all departments). In sum, I saw it as work around the state law and wanted no part of.

Attorney General:
Realize no evidence was gathered or examined by the attorney general, and Wilson only addressed a question asked by a local state senator. There was no trial or ruling by a judge, hence no verdict. Wilson’s opinion was 4 pages. A ruling by a judge in a trial could be up to 40 pages and would address all the complaints if the attorney general or a citizen later sued the county for a violation of the state law.   

The most relevant line in Wilson’s opinion was: "… we do not believe such a reserve could be used as a dedicated funding stream for ongoing expenses as this would run afoul of the Legislature's intent to limit governing bodies from increasing property taxes for normal operations.”

The last sentence was a clear warning, “… we do not believe Pickens County may use this exception to exceed the millage rate limitation to fund ongoing road operating expenses.” 

What Are “Ongoing Expenses”?
I brought up the AG’s opinion at the next council meeting and asked the administration what it thought. The administration said and the council leadership agreed, each year they’ll spend the $3.2 million on maintenance road re-paving and the other $2.8 million on long-term projects. 

First, that was a change from what the council was told -- this money would be used for road re-paving. Long-term road projects were not discussed. To his credit, Councilman, Trey Whitehurst said as much at the same meeting.   

Second, what long-term projects? On different occasions the administration has given various examples of what they think are long-term projects – culvert replacement, patching more than 25% of a road, multi-year road striping, widening Highway 183, or fixing a bridge damaged in a storm. To me it sounds like a mix of maintenance and repair of existing roads, and qualified long-term projects. The former which could run afoul of the attorney general’s opinion and possibly the law.  

Repairing a bridge or tearing off the top of an existing road and resurfacing it are not “large road projects” or projects “so large and expensive” they require the county to save and plan ahead for. 
Most will see such “large road projects” as adding an $8 million exchange to Highway 123 or buying miles of land to build a new road; not maintenance and repair to existing roads.  

As I explained (see video), I think this attorney general opinion cuts the county maintenance road re-paving monies in half. Obviously, I’m in a minority on that.  

Judges Could Decide:
Opinion, thought, could, or possibly are appropriate here because all we know at this point is the council voted to breach the state millage cap, and the administration plans to spend all the money. The administration feels it met one of the millage cap exceptions, rooted in four words in the law – “maintain a reserve account”. Maybe, maybe not, because no one knows how a judge will interpret that phrase. Plus, no one knows if the attorney general’s opinion of that phrase is correct. And if he is correct, who knows how a judge will define road maintenance, repair, or a long-term project? 

In sum, the law is vague and non-existent in places here, so if the county is sued, a judge will fill in the details. Scary. The administration and council majority are treading in uncharted and dangerous legal waters. 

Conclusion:
A councilman’s oath is to preserve and protect the constitution and uphold the law. If the law is uncertain, you stop, not move forward like the council has. Now with as little as we know and much more of what we don’t, the responsible thing to do is lower the tax hike from 9.6 mills back down to the legal cap of 5.3 mills. This will remove the legal doubts and keep the council on the bright side of the law and not in this dark and make it up as you go place it finds itself now. " 

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Do We Need a Change in Governance Structure in Pickens County, SC?



At present, Pickens County has an unelected Administrator chosen and hired by the consensus of our elected County Council. He is not held accountable by the voters of Pickens County directly. 

The below post was made about Greenville County Council which has the same governance system in place as Pickens County which is "Council-Administrator" form of governance.  Our present Pickens County, SC Administrator is Ken Roper, and he has operational control over county affairs. He is held accountable to the council and can only be removed by them. 

The only way the voters in Pickens County can hold Mr. Roper accountable to his decisions is to complain to their councilman. Our hired Administrator actually has complete operational control over all our county affairs. The question for us Pickens County voters is... 

Is this the BEST governance form to have in our county which gives we the people a better county?  

Perhaps it's time we all start to think about the above question.

The below post was made on Facebook by a Greenville County voter about their county governance system. And since we here in Pickens County have the same type of County Governance in place, it is definitely worth debating the points made in this Facebook post below.

So let us know your thoughts in the comment section


The Facebook Book posted states: 

"The SC State Constitution authorizes the General Assembly to define the structure and powers of county governments; and it limits to five the legal forms of county governments (Art. VIII, Sec. 7). State law (in Title 4, Chapter 9) provides five possible forms of county government: (1) Council; (2) Council-Supervisor; (3) Council-Administrator; (4) Council-Manager; and (5) Board of Commissioners. Greenville County uses the Council-Administrator form, which was recognized by the legislature as its then-current form when the county government statute was last revised in 1976. It has remained unchanged since then.


Under the Council-Administrator form (§4-9-610 et seq), the Council members are elected by popular vote (Greenville County uses single-member districts), with the Chairman being selected by the council from among its members. The Council then employs a County Administrator. The Administrator is the “administrative head of the county government” and is “responsible for the administration of all the departments of the county government.” All county employees report to the Administrator: “[N]either the council nor its members shall give orders or instructions to any such officers or employees.” (§4-9-650) Council members may interact with county employees only “for the purposes of inquiries and investigations.” Thus, the Administrator has complete operational control over county affairs. While he answers to the council in a certain sense, the Administrator can be removed by them only upon written notice and following a public hearing. For all practical purposes, the Administrator is accountable to no one. 

The current Greenville County Administrator is Joseph Kernell. He has held that position since 2004. He is paid $285,000 per year, plus other perks (including a county-paid car; and an additional 10% contributed to his retirement plan). His current contract expires on March 13. However, it automatically renews for two successive one-year terms unless either party sends to the other a notice of nonrenewal. The deadline for such a notice this year has already passed, as it was on January 15. 

One of the alternative forms of government is the Council-Supervisor form (§4-9-410 et seq). In many respects this is similar to the Council-Administrator form: The Supervisor functions as the county’s chief administrative officer and has essentially the same powers as an Administrator (in fact, his statutory duties are slightly greater). The chief difference is that a Supervisor is an elected position. He serves for a specified term of years (as do all the Council members), and he functions as the Council chairman but only gets to vote in order to break ties. He is therefore responsible directly to the people, who can vote him out of office at the next election if he is not performing well.

In my opinion the Council-Supervisor structure is a far superior form of government, especially in a county as large and prosperous as Greenville, with its 2022 budget of over $205 million, more than 1,800 employees and a population of roughly 5 million. The chief executive of such a county should be selected by, and answerable to, the people, not hired in a crony back-room deal and insulated by a contract. I am unaware that the County Council has ever considered alternative candidates in the last 18 years. This form of government is profoundly undemocratic.
No matter how bad a job the Administrator does, the only means of public control is indirect, b electing different Council members. 

The form of county government can be changed. That requires a public referendum, which can be called either by the Council itself or initiated by petition. Such a petition requires the signatures of “not less than ten percent of the registered electors of the county.” (§4-9-10(c)) A change in the form of government is unlikely to be initiated by the Council, which seems satisfied with the current arrangement (and it would be strongly opposed by the current Administrator, who seems to have the Council under his thumb). Petition drives are difficult. Currently, Greenville County has 191,710 registered voters, so more than 19,000 people would have to sign any such petition.

Before starting that process the citizens of this county should begin to discuss this matter. Few seem to appreciate the deficiencies of our current form of government or know that it can be changed. Some of our local political leadership should raise the issue and begin the public debate."   Laird Minor

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Pickens County SC Legislative Delegation is Warned About Dangers of Social Emotional Learning in SC Schools

 



Leadership Team Member of Conservatives of the Upstate, Johnnelle Raines, who is also a Board Member of United States Parents Involved in Education, spoke to the Pickens County Legislative Delegation on Monday evening, January 10th, 2022, about the dangers of our State of SC Dept of Education being in a partnership with an organization named CASEL.


Below is her speech:

I want to thank our Lord and Savior for our safe travels to be here tonight and thank our Forefathers for making sure our Constitution included the right to free speech so we can speak freely to our elected representatives. I also want to thank Sen. Rice for not ignoring our plea to have more than just one of these meetings a year and for having the appointments made to these important boards made in the public eye and not behind closed doors.

Many say our public school system is failing. I disagree, government run schools are succeeding at the Marxist goal to indoctrinate the youth and overthrow our form of government.  For the past 11 years, I have tried at every turn to change this wrong direction we have been heading; beginning with “Commie” Core Standards…but our elected have blinders on and refuse to see the writing on the wall, or they see it but, God help us, they are complicit with those goals.

I am once again here in front of you pleading for you all to do your own research and understand that our Constitutional Republic as we know it is under attack by the Marxists. Marxists are using our school’s curriculum as their weapon of choice. The future of our Constitutional Republic remaining intact is children’s education. 

Look around at our youth…our freedoms are eroding due to the Marxist indoctrination taking place and the Teacher’s Unions are complicit. A war for our children’s souls is also taking place. And all this is happening by using our own tax dollars. Your blinders need to come off and your apathy or complicit behavior must not continue.


At present, there is a controversy about Critical Race Theory’s anti racism, blame all the white people mantra. You all have considered removing funds from schools who teach this in SC. But how many of you understand there’s another indoctrination program taking place as we speak in our SC schools known as Social Emotional Learning called “SEL” for short. SEL is flying under the radar because so many people have NOT peeled back the layers and done their research on who is pushing this and why.  Did you know that this is the tool being used to continue fostering Marxist ideology to our young students so they will all grow up and be Social Justice Warriors? You may be asking yourself how could anyone be against teaching social and emotional skills to students? BUT are you also asking yourself, if we are going to empower an organization to teach SEL to children, shouldn’t we know WHO this organization is and WHAT their values, attitudes and beliefs are?   And that is where the problem lies.

The SC Dept of Ed has partnered up recently with an organization called “CASEL “which stands for Collaborative Academic, Social and Emotional Learning. 

I invite all of you to do your own research to see what this organization is about and WHO their CEO is.   

But just as an example, in a webinar they sponsored entitled “SEL as a Lever for Equity and Social Justice,” CASEL’s CEO, Karen Niemi, recently said, (quote) “social-emotional learning must actively contribute to anti-racism…we see SEL as a tool for anti-racism.”  The term “anti-racist” is being used by Marxists to advance their radical agenda of shaming white people that they are all racists and an oppressor and have white privilege.

Niemi announced recently that SEL was “updating” its definition of what they do as an organization. She states, and I quote, they will now, “pay attention to personal and social identities, cultural competencies, and collective action as part of SEL’s goals. (Did you catch that?) and she further stated that the organization "will support schools, districts and states to infuse SEL systematically into curriculum and instruction, out-of-school time, discipline, student support services, professional learning, and ongoing student assessments.”  Niemi even brags that, SEL will be woven into the daily life of a school and all subjects.  This language smacks of social engineering, at a level that should make your eyes pop out!

There are many other problems with SEL, but I don’t have the time to tell you this evening.  SEL is indeed indoctrination, and SC is in bed with the organization that is using it as a lever for Social Justice.  Please understand that any legislation that addresses getting rid of Critical Race Theory must also address getting rid of our connections with CASEL. We must get that wolf in sheep’s clothing out of the classroom pronto.  I don’t know how much our partnership with CASEL is costing the taxpayer, but I suggest those funds be used to hire more experienced, effective school counselors and therapists to help those individual students who need social, emotional support. Not all students need it! Finally, any legislation you propose this year should be giving parents greater oversight of K-12 curriculum. Parents should be able to know EXACTLY what a teacher’s lesson plans are teaching their child.

I plead with you to check CASEL’s website out and seminars as well as videos and articles written by their CEO Karen Niemi: www.casel.org

Here's one of Karen Niemi's articles that can be found here at this link: 

You can’t have meaningful civic engagement without social and emotional skills | EdSource

Johnnelle Raines found out the next day after her speech that CASEL has hired a new CEO, and it's not good news, she says. The new CEO Dr. Aaliyah A. Samuel is a leading expert recognized "for Leadership in addressing Effects of Systemic Racism on the Early Years of Life," according to NWEA,

History matters, see this article which tells the history of the newly elected CEO of CASEL that the SC Dept of Education will be collaborating with: 

https://www.nwea.org/2020/12/nwea-expert-recognized-for-leadership-in-addressing-effects-of-systemic-racism-on-the-early-years-of-life/

All those concerned about the Social Emotional Learning agenda in SC schools are asked to please contact SC Senator Rex Rice who sits on the Senate Education Committee and let him know you want the SC Dept of Education to end their connections to CASEL and stop this Marxist indoctrination from taking place in our tax supported school systems.

Senator Rice can be reached at 864-884-0408.



 

 

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Your SC Columbia Legislators Need YOU to Speak Up!



Hello Citizens of Pickens County! Monday, January 10th at 6 PM is YOUR chance to speak up and let YOUR Pickens County Legislative Delegation Members know what most concerns YOU as they head back to Columbia to make decisions.

There's no doubt they pay much better attention to YOU if you speak up in person in front of them at these Delegation Meetings and not just email or call them. 

We have had at least 60 people show up at the last several Delegation Meetings, and I do believe we are making a difference in letting them know we are paying attention to what they are doing. Let's continue to hold them accountable!

They will be making 2 appointments to the very important Board of Elections in Pickens County. And REMEMBER ... we are the reason they are now doing these appointments in front of us and not behind closed doors. It is imperative we be there to watch this process and know how they vote for these extremely important positions. Election integrity matters!

You will have 3 minutes to speak at the podium to let them know your concerns for the 2022 legislative session. 

Don't hold back! Remember YOU are their boss...they are YOUR representative in our Representative Republic! We didn't send them down there to feather their own nests and do what they think is best...we sent them to Columbia to do what WE THE PEOPLE think is best!

Hope to see you there, if not you...who...if not now...when? 

It's time folks! Stand UP! Speak UP! Give your legislators direction! That's what bosses do!



 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

First Meeting of the New Year for Pickens County Council


Monday, January 3rd at 6:30 pm sharp is your FIRST chance to give YOUR direction to your County Council for what you want to see this upcoming New Year!  

Sign up to speak when you get there a little early with Meagan Nation or call her @ 864-898-5856 or email her: meaganb@co.pickens.sc.us and tell her to put you on the roster to speak for no more than 3 minutes about your concerns and hopes for our county.

DETAILS: 

WHAT?   PICKENS COUNTY COUNCIL MEETING

WHEN?  Monday, January 3, 2022, 6:30 P.M

WHERE? Auditorium, County Administration Facility
                222 McDaniel Avenue, Pickens SC 29671

On the agenda to be discussed will be: 
UPDATE ON COUNTY ROAD MAINTENANCE RESERVE FUNDING (otherwise known as that almost 10 mil property tax increase that all but Alex Saitta voted in favor of)

Start the New Year 2022 off by becoming an involved citizens and being a watchdog of your tax dollars! Council needs to see YOU in the audience paying attention to their votes and decisions.

We all need to be informed voters who understand which councilmen need to be replaced next elections cycle.