Lexington County is in the first stages of an economic boom. Commercial and residential real estate properties are moving, the population is growing, more school-age children are filling the schools and the needs to accommodate all this are stacking up. Unfortunately, like the rest of the state, the condition of roads in Lexington are poor; potholes, crumbling shoulders, some not wide enough, many not even paved. Yet cars, trucks and school buses must negotiate these sub-standard thruways because we are ignorant or selfish.
Last year, the Town of Lexington initiated a 2% “Hospitality Tax” as a desperate means to decongest several bottleneck intersections. The process was met with hate, vitriol and misinformation by the same small group of people who now oppose the County’s 1% sales tax referendum that will come up for a vote this Fall to raise the money to fix miles of county roads.
Opposition to government policies is fine. In fact, it’s important for a functioning democracy. But, just as we expect elected officials to be civil and forthcoming to citizens, the public must also be civil and forthcoming. And just as we expect the truth from those we put in office, we must also be dedicated to fact.
The opposition to Town and County tax initiatives have not been civil nor have they been truthful.
A candidate for Lexington County Council accused current members of the council of “trying to import corruption across the river by trying to pass the SAME corrupt penny sales tax” as is in Richland County.
An anti-tax group, the Lexington County Citizens Watch (LCCW) gets funding/support from American’s for Prosperity, a far, far right organization operating out of Arlington, Virginia. A major source of AFP funding is said to come from Texas. The AFP has also been active in Lexington, making robo-calls to citizens urging them to call legislators to oppose various tax proposals.
LCCW has been advertising Council member’s email addresses and telephone numbers (all available on the Town website). Curiously, LCCW keeps it’s own contact information, membership and leadership private. There is no such information on its website or Facebook page.
As for the LCCW Facebook page, an image is used of Council Members Debbie Summers and Johnny Jeffcoat with the words “STOP Council Corruption.” Interested to find out what was considered corruption and why these two Council members were singled out, I sent an email to Mr. Talbert Black, a member of the group, asking those and other questions. Here is the email sent January 8 of this year.
Two months later and Mr. Black has not responded.
Recently, a group calling itself “Citizens for a Better Lexington” sent a letter to the South Carolina State Ethics Commission requesting an investigation into County Councilman Johnny Jeffcoat’s hiring by the Town of Lexington as “Community & Economic Catalyst.”
In the first three parts of this series, Lake and Main investigated the allegations and the mysterious group making them. That study concluded:
- This also allowed the group to publicize its charges whereas a formal complaint would not.
- The timing of the letter coincides with the candidacy of an individual running for Mr. Jeffcoat’s council seat. Mr. Jeffcoat is not seeking re-election. That candidate also alleges corruption without corroborating information.
- Jeffcoat’s job with the Town of Lexington is a revised position that existed for several years before his hiring. The original position was not a standalone item but was part of the budget. The title and duties changed as a part of the FY 2009-2010 budget which was passed unanimously with all members of Council present.
- The salary for the revised position – “Community & Economic Catalyst” – and Mr. Jeffcoat’s selection for it were also set unanimously by Town Council. The salary was roughly the same as that of the previous version of the job.
- The unanimity of Mr. Jeffcoat’s hiring is of note because on the Council at the time, as now, is Mr. Ted Stambolitis. Mr. Stambolitis is an outspoken council member most recently aligned with anti-tax groups as the single dissenting vote on last year’s 2% Hospitality Tax.
- Britt Poole, Lexington Town Administrator identified a list of projects to which Mr. Jeffcoat’s contribution were essential. The benefit of those projects is estimated at about $485 million (roughly $6.93 million/year).
- Accusations that Mr. Jeffcoat “rarely goes into the office” and telecommutes is not true.
- The PBL repeatedly makes the charge that Mr. Jeffcoat “received a $50,000 pay increase in less than a year.” This is also untrue. The PBL either ignorantly or intentionally quoted Mr. Jeffcoat’s salary rate as actual income to make it look like he received a monumental – and questionable – pay increase.
- It is alleged that former Town Councilman and current Mayor, Steve MacDougall, “assisted [Mr. Jeffcoat] in securing this position and the annual pay increases.” There is no explanation of “assisted him” nor is there evidence that Mayor MacDougall did so. Even had there been “assistance,” there is nothing more than insinuation that Mayor MacDougall did anything untoward or unethical. Further, no one on the Council had any input or participated in any way in salary increases for Mr. Jeffcoat. Increases are Town policy and have been for quite a while.
The point of all this isn’t to promote taxes or defend specific elected officials. Anti-tax and anti-progress groups contend otherwise, calling me and this website a shill, lapdog, paid mouthpiece, stupid, liar and a drunk. I don’t care. I do care, however, about what is going on in the public marketplace of ideas. I care about the dialogue and tactics used to advance political points.
What these individuals and groups are doing is corrupt. It’s intellectually corrupt, it’s socially and culturally corrupt and it’s a corruption of the values of the citizens of Lexington County.
If there is, in fact, public misconduct, it should be exposed and prosecuted. If elected or appointed officials are using their positions for personal gain or to create or advance their interests or those of their cronies, they should – must – be eradicated from public service. Taxpayer assets must be protected and used only for the purposes the taxpayers deem appropriate.
But citizens have responsibilities, as well. Not
understanding government process does not mean there is a conspiracy to deceive. Policies that don’t agree with an individual’s preferences doesn’t equal corruption. And, though no one likes them, taxes are sometimes necessary. Raising old ones or creating new ones does not mean malfeasance, theft of public funds or mismanagement. Sometimes, taxes are the only solution to community problems.
We need to look at facts, not listen to rumors or legend. We need to talk, not rant. We need to ask questions, not automatically accuse.
We’ve got stuff to do. We’ve got roads, bridges and dams to fix, children to educate, business to build and we’ve got communities to prosper.
What’s going on now is not beneficial and it’s not constructive.
Lexington is better than this.