Edgefield County As It Happens

Edgefield County, South Carolina

May 3, 2005

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County and Town run from failing legal challenges
web posted May3, 2005

In the escapades that surround the property owned by the Mims family on the Edgefield Town Square which the town wanted to renovate into a theater for local productions to provide a “greater tax benefit”, pushed by local historian and developer Bettis Rainsford, a flurry of lawsuits soon followed every step.

When Rainsford could not obtain the property through negotiations some say a more heinous plot was laid. On the side of the Mims camp some close to the family claim that “other people” forced the back walls of the building to crumble in a most auspicious manner and timing in order to give the town the needed fuel to force the building’s condemnation.

True or not, it certainly helped along the way. The back wall breach gave a real opportunity to the town to move in. Aside from the fact the property owners had addressed the issue, and were planning corrective action, the town pushed aside protocol and seized the property and a willingness to fund the project with no prior public notice or service to the property owners.

Rainsford, who was leading the effort, then approached the Edgefield County Council for support of the theater in the amount of $200,000 in general obligation bonds on behalf of the county. The County voted to support the request even after knowing the Town of Edgefield was locked in a legal battle over the property the funds were requested for.

Once that hurdle was given the questionable “green light” by the county council, Rainsford went to the Edgefield County School Board to get equal backing. The school Board was not as receptive as the Edgefield based council and Rainsford withdrew his request the day of the meeting when he learned a majority of the school board members were not willing to spend money on his project when they had just renovated Strom Thurmond High School to allow such productions in house. At the time School Board member Les Culpepper said “there is a process this has to go through,” saying that bond issues must go before voters.

This set into motion a series of falling dominos for the theater.

The vote by the Edgefield County Council to approve funding brought about a lawsuit which challenged the council’s ability to promise funds for a project without prior public notice. A suit the county now wants to resolve outside of the courts.

The theater project for all practical purposes is dead. All federal and state funding has been withdrawn due to what insiders say is due to the inability to secure the property in question in time.

The county is trying to navigate its way back to semi solid ground, the town is running as fast as it can from the issue, and long time politicos are hoping it will just pass by without notice.

In years past that might have been possible. However, with the inset of a new local media and the free exchange of ideas, a print media no longer can exert the pressure on public opinion as it has in the past.

There seems to be a prevailing source of the collective failure of development driven agendas of the county and town directives and the espoused abuse of local private property owner’s rights.

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