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Moving the trees to see the forest: County Councilwoman berates Editor for "mean" article

A Column by the Editor
web posted May 7, 2009
COLUMN – County Councilwoman Genia Blackwell has expressed quite a bit of angst and anger over the report of the county council’s decision to rebuild the Church Street building at a location on Railroad Street. “It was mean,” Blackwell said regarding the report. Mrs. Blackwell said that there was no vote taken prior to the meeting on the matter. “We were aware there was a proposal,” she said, “but we didn’t vote on anything until the meeting.”

According to Blackwell, Chairman Kneece simply “misspoke” when he stated the council already decided to place the building there rather than the Church Street property. The decision was made during the meeting, she said, and there was nothing improper about the vote.

However the question raised at the meeting concerning the decision, regardless of when it was made, was that the “decision” to place the building on Railroad Street was presented from nowhere and as a foregone conclusion. Which it turned out to be.

There has not been a single discussion about rebuilding the office space in front of the public other than to discuss the amount of insurance money from the fire that destroyed the Church Street building and how it would be paid to the county and not where the building would be located.

The county entered into a drive to purchase the Calliham building on Penn Street which left the county council going behind closed doors to discuss the matter. At one point the council voted to make an offer to purchase the building for $425,000. With Mr. Calliham unable to produce a clear title to the property, that effort was abandoned and the property was eventually sold on the Courthouse steps in a foreclosure sale for $50,000. The county did not bid on the property.

After the sale the county resurrected the plan to purchase the building again, with all discussions being held behind closed doors. According to numbers already released, the new owner would have increased his investment in the property five times over.

After the issue was announced dead with a public vote to not move forward, the dead rose again after a proposal lead by Edgefield Mayor Ken Durham last month, which was shot down twice. Once to not purchase the property and another vote to never bring the matter up again. If you think that was the final push, keep reading.

The county has always held two options out, rebuilding on the Church Street property or the purchase of the Calliham building. The public was led to believe that those were the only real options, other than an off record comment once that the county could consider building on property owned on Star Road.

However, at the county council meeting Tuesday night the plan to build on the Railroad Street property was well in place with aerial photos, drawings showing the building’s location, and no other proposal or option mentioned until Councilman Rodney Ashcraft brought up rebuilding on the Church Street property.

That brought Edgefield Mayor Ken Durham into the conversation in which he stated the county would have had to start rebuilding the structure within six months due to setbacks used by the town. Though it was still feasible even with the setback rules or by obtaining a variance from the town to rebuild the building that burned, the discussion was put down and the vote was held to build on the Railroad Street property.

The problem is that there has never been a public discussion involving the public’s comments, concerns or desires held. Apparently the only ones that have been involved in the decision making process has been the Edgefield County Council, Edgefield Mayor Ken Durham, the Calliham family, and Bettis Rainsford.

Where were the taxpayers’ opinions and comments even taken into consideration? They are the ones who own the properties and pay the bills.
A larger question is, why on Railroad Street? According to Chairman Monroe Kneece, it was chosen because people could walk between the County Courthouse and the new building that will house other government offices. The plan is to move other county offices out of the courthouse due to security concerns, and relocate them into the new building.

If that were the case, it would matter little where the building was located as people going to the courthouse would do so for matters concerning court, recording deeds, or probate matters and not to pay their taxes or register to vote.

Again, why Railroad Street?

It is more than blatantly obvious that Mayor Durham was adamant the county purchase the Calliham property. A big push by Rainsford and Durham was made to have the matter brought back up at the Tuesday night meeting. Both attended the meeting and, if looks could kill, Councilman Ashcraft would be on life support from the evil glare Rainsford was giving him during the discussion on the Railroad Street property; it was as if his child just disobeyed an order.

But there is a much larger picture that has to be viewed. It is a sort of a, “you can’t see the forest for the trees” thing.

The fact of the matter is the Railroad Street property is the location of the Sheriff’s Office and the Law Enforcement Center (LEC) containing 911 operations and the county jail, which will have to be expanded within five years, an expansion that would be possible without the purchase of the Calliham building, until now.

Now that the available space is being used to house the new office building, those plans will be greatly altered. With the LEC not being able to expand across the street, the expansion can only go in one direction and that direction would then be pushed to require the purchase of, guess what? The Calliham property.

Moreover, a bigger issue arises about the Church Street property. Why was it never considered when that is where the office building was to begin with? What plans are there for that property? And why would Durham and Rainsford push so hard to make sure the building was never replaced at that location?

Here is a hint. The property is a historical site.

Perhaps Councilwoman Blackwell is right, the article may have been “mean” and maybe Chairman Kneece “misspoke” at the meeting.

I suppose he has been misspeaking every time the county council exits executive sessions over the years to declare that “we decided” on the matter held in private.

And perhaps all the things that have taken place are just by happenstance with no desire to make sure that sometime, somehow, those who are so adamant that the county buy the Calliham property get their way.

And to answer the many emails, yes, I am sleeping on the couch again tonight.


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