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Calliham purchase questions outnumber excuses

A Column by the Editor
web posted August 7, 2009
COLUMN – The “good ole boy” system of government that has run heavy handed over this county for decades was on full display at Tuesday night’s County Council meeting when from nowhere Chairman Monroe Kneece, Vice-chairman Willie Bright, and Councilman Norman Dorn brought the Calliham property purchase up for a vote that passed on a 3-2 split with Council members Genia Blackwell and Rodney Ashcraft opposing. It was obvious the fix was in long before the meeting even took place. But has the county overspent and outvoted itself?

There is not just a problem with the vote to purchase Calliham’s, there is a mountain of problems including the fact that the county council has now voted to build a building on Railroad Street and purchase the Calliham property.

In April the County Council voted to stop all negotiations connected to the Calliham property and that no more offers would be considered or accepted. Two weeks later, in spite of the vote, another offer was presented and considered. It was rejected and again the council stated that no more offers would be accepted and the matter was “dead”. A vote was also taken to never bring the matter up for discussion again. As such, the ordinance for the purchase of the property also died, yet again.

At the May 5, 2009 County Council meeting a unanimous vote was taken to place the new county office building on Railroad Street and that would be located in the parking lot across the street from the Sheriff’s Office. Building and Planning Director Mike Reed told the council that it would accommodate a building between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet and that there was room for additional buildings to be built in the future.

The insurance money from the Church Street fire was to cover the cost of the project, not to exceed $608,000 and was thought to be able to come in at or below that cost.

The county advertised for architectural firms to submit their resumes and in July voted to begin negotiations with 2KM Architects to draw up the specs and plans for the Railroad Street project. 

All three votes were unanimous.

However, on August 4, the county council voted to purchase the Calliham property without reconsidering the vote to place the building on Railroad Street. According to Robert’s Rules of Order, the only time allowed to reconsider the vote to place the building on Railroad Street ran out on June 2. Basically, the county council is committing the county to the construction of a new office building and the purchase of the Calliham property.

I say this not only because of the rules that govern the votes of the Edgefield County Council, but also the answers, or dance steps, that County Administrator John Pettigrew gave on Thursday.

According to Administrator Pettigrew, the votes by the county council to end all negotiations and acceptance of offers and “move on” to build on property the county already owned to avoid creating “debt” did not override the ordinance to purchase the property. The vote to place a new building on Railroad Street did not override the ordinance to purchase the property. The vote to hire an architect to plan the new building did not override the ordinance to buy the property. But somehow, the vote to purchase the property overrides any and all other votes. Many of which were unanimous.

Councilwoman Genia Blackwell pointed out this problem Tuesday night when she asked where the money to purchase the Calliham property was going to come from, to which Chairman Kneece stated it would be the money they planned to use on the Railroad Street building.

Really? And just when was that vote taken?

Would that be the meeting with Chairman Kneece, Bettis Rainsford, Ken Durham, and one unknown individual at the county council chambers the Monday morning a week before the agenda was drawn up? How was the architect advised to provide a proposal for the Calliham property two weeks prior to the vote to buy the property when the council voted for a proposal on the Railroad Street building just two weeks before and no vote had been taken to purchase the Calliham property?

Moreover, Chairman Kneece and Councilman Willie Bright both stated Tuesday night that the cost of renovations to the Calliham property being used were those provided by Edgefield Construction president Ken Durham in March and April. Numbers that are drastically under market and cannot be used for calculations of any type of cost basis.

On Wednesday Mr. Durham stated in a phone call that the numbers being used by the county council were those provided by Building and Planning Director Mike Reed. He also stated that the $40 a square foot cost of remodeling the Calliham property quoted by Councilman Ashcraft was good only if the county had already replaced the roof on both buildings, installed the fire sprinklers, and made other repairs at the time of purchase. Otherwise the cost per square foot would go up at least 50%.

That admission alone places the cost on taxpayers closer to a $1.485 million price tag for the Calliham venture alone. a Price tag Chairman Kneece refused to accept at the meeting when questioned on the cost of remodeling.

And just to make matters worse. Chairman Monroe Kneece stated at the meeting Tuesday night that the county has rejected cheaper offers. Below is the transcript from the exchange between EdgefieldDaily.com and Chairman Kneece on the matter.

Begin Transcript:
EdgefieldDaily.com (ED.C): The first question would be what changed over the last several votes? 

Chairman Kneece: The price.

ED.C: So this is the best price ya’ll have been offered all along?

Chariman Kneece: Nope. It’s the best price, uh… that we’ve had. This is the last price that we’ve had.

ED.C: So you haven’t had better prices?

Chairman Kneece: No, this is the low, this is the low.
End Transcript:

Unfortunately there have been lower offers.

Notable quotes:
“We are through with it (Calliham’s)”: County Council Chairman Monroe Kneece January 6, 2009.

“We can build everything we need on property we already own”: Chairman Kneece April 7, 2009.

“It’s over with, it won’t come back”: County Council Chairman Monroe Kneece April 12, 2009.

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