More Questions for School Board: No Answers

Have you ever watched one of those reality TV shows in which a couple is looking to buy a new house?  They are very specific about their “must haves:” granite counter tops, dual sink bathroom, hardwood floors, large back yard, etc..  They may have to do some renovations, but they’re prepared to do that to get what they want.  So, off they go, looking for the perfect property.

What you will NOT see, even on television, is buyers finding exactly what they want, where they want it and at a good price, and then proclaiming: “You know, this house is so perfect and it’s move-in ready, so we’re going to pay MORE than the asking price.  In fact, since we don’t have to do any renovations, we’re going to pay SEVEN TIMES what the house is worth!”

Nope.  Not even on TV.

Ask any car dealer if a buyer offered to pay double, triple or SEVEN TIMES the MSRP for a vehicle because {s}he didn’t have to add any after-market options.

I wonder how many members of the Lexington One School Board have ever bought a car like that.  Well, maybe if they knew the dealer and had been a former colleague.

The Board’s decision to purchase 55 acres of land for $982.980 ($17.872/acre) as a site for a new school in Pelion has raised questions and eyebrows, but, unfortunately, not the curtain of secrecy.

The School Board has only referred to their website as explanation.  Read it, please, and decide for yourself if there is adequate justification for paying an exorbitant amount of money to a former colleague!

As noted, there are questions and Lake and Main has asked them of Board Chair Debbie Knight.  In a 26 May email to Ms. Knight, the following was posed:

  • How was the purchase price calculated and who proposed it?
  • Was the price negotiated? 
  • Was other land considered?
  • Did the seller solicit the board or did the board approach the seller?
  • Was the property listed for sale?
  • Have cost estimates been calculated for construction on the property? If so, what are they?
  • Were there any concerns by board members about the cost of the property?
D_Knight
Lexington 1 Board Chair               Debra L. Knight

Chairperson Knight’s response was:

Mr. Speight, Thank you for reaching out to me. I would suggest you contact Mary Beth Hill our Director of Communications. You can reach her at 803 821-1152.  Our process for land purchase is also on our website.

A subsequent email to Ms. Hill on 29 May has not yielded a response.

Chairperson Knight didn’t answer the questions.  None of them.  She, one of six people who voted (unanimously) for the purchase, was unable or unwilling to provide details.  That’s disturbing.  In fact, the email sent to Chairperson Knight included distribution to every member of the Board.  None responded.

Further, she passed me off to the Director of Communications who has not communicated!

Since that “exchange,” other questions have come to mind.

  • What, if any, real estate person or company brokered the purchase?
  • If there was a brokering agent, are there connections to any of the board members?
  • If there was a brokering agent, what commission was paid?

The Lexington One Board has – or should have – easily accessible records to respond to these question quickly.  According to media reports, the purchase of the property was approved in the May 15 meeting “unanimously.”  As of this writing, those records have not been posted online, although those for previous meetings contain vague references to property matters “discussed in executive session.”

I’ll say here what many others have said, this thing stinks.  There are three possibilities that might explain the smell. 

Miscommunication.  The Board hasn’t adequately clarified the purchase.  Still, there has been ample time and opportunity to do so and no reasonable or acceptable clarification has resulted.

Incompetence.  Perhaps the Board had nothing but the good intentions it has claimed and just made a very poor and expensive decision. All six of them – making the same very poor decision.  If so, that’s hardly a satisfying defense and the community should remove them for more competent fiscal stewards.  All six of them.

Corruption.  Harsh word, but one that is being spoken.  

This story is not over.  These and other questions are being asked of the South Carolina State Ethics Commission. 

Stay tuned.

Lexington School District 1 Property Purchase: UPDATE

Lexington School District 1’s curious (or so it appears) purchase of a large tract of land from a former school board member may be uncontestable by taxpayers.

On May 15, the District 1 School Board voted unanimously to purchase 55 acres of land in Pelion from former board member and Pelion High School principal Jean Nichols Haggard and her brother, Hugh A. Nichol for an astonishing $982,980 – seven (7) times the assessed value.

When asked to investigate the purchase, the Office of the State Superintendent and
Office of Governmental Affairs in the South Carolina Department of Education told Lake and Main, “You may contact the SC State Inspector General’s office directly but this matter falls solely under the legal authority of your locally elected school board.”

The State Inspector General’s website specifically states that school districts are not within it’s jurisdiction for investigation.

So, it appears that the school board is the only authority for examining the actions – of the school board!

An inquiry has also been emailed to the South Carolina Attorney General.  Further, a text message was sent to one of the board members for comment, but the member has yet to respond.

There are multiple questions about this deal that do not reflect positively on the board. The explanation on the district’s website is weak, at best, and more than a little condescending.  Given what is known and, more importantly, what is unknown, those are serious questions.

  • How was the purchase price calculated and who proposed it?
  • What plans are on the books for the property?
  • Was other land considered?
  • Did the seller solicit the board or did the board approach the seller?
  • Was the property listed for sale?

The Lexington School District 1 must understand the magnitude of the implications of this purchase and the rights of district taxpayers, parents, students and teachers.  Otherwise, a very ugly question is going to be asked.

 

Lexington 1 to buy former board member’s land at 7 times appraised value | The State

Midlands school district to buy former board member’s land at 7 times appraised value

BY JEFF WILKINSON AND SARAH ELLIS

May 23, 2018

Lake and Main Comment: 

The District’s suggestion that the exorbitant purchase price might somehow be mitigated by savings on pre-construction costs is insulting. Those factors may, indeed, make the property more attractive, but to , essentially, pay those costs anyway is bad business and poor fiscal stewardship.

Further, it has not been disclosed who set the price for the property. Was it the Nichols family or did the school board arbitrarily multiply the appraised value by 7?  Was there any negotiation or was the deal made with a wink and a nod?

This purchase smacks of cronyism and demands better answers.

Contact the District One School Board:

http://www.lexington1.net/about/school-board/members

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For SC House 69: Chris Wooten

Lexington – Town and county – has a murky political record.  Corruption is not exclusive to this county, nor is it as rampant here as it is elsewhere (*cough* Richland).  Nonetheless, any instance or degree of public official misdeed is unacceptable, and although there is never an excuse for the unscrupulous, the blame is not theirs alone.

Voting seems to have become an inconvenience or something unworthy of far too many people.  Poll turnout is disgustingly light for any level of election.  And without strong participation by the electorate, the frauds, the unscrupulous and the racketeers will continue to gain access to our public offices and public coffers.  So it should surprise no one that Rick Quinn and other bad actors have profited by their misdeeds so successfully and for so long.

Quinn is gone and now we have another election to fill his stained seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives.  Looking to replace him is an interesting and attractive slate of candidates, all of whom deserve attention and scrutiny.  As always, there are those who rise above the rest.

In studying the five candidates, Joel DeasonAnne Marie Eckstorm GreenAlan RayMichael Weaver, and Chris Wooten.  As usual, all of them say what we want to hear and I believe they are honest about their platforms.  I don’t think there are any phony’s in this race.  Of the group, I am most confident in two particular candidates.

First, I want to explain why I “eliminated” two of them; Joel Deason and Michael Weaver.  Both are attorney’s and are clearly accomplished gentlemen.  What gives me pause, however, is their connections. 

Mr. Deason has quite a bit of experience in state government, of which he is justifiably proud.  On his website he states; “He is now an attorney and concentrates his practice on litigation and public policy. He has also prosecuted Insurance Fraud as an Assistant Attorney General, and worked on a variety of issues before the S.C. General Assembly while serving as Research Director in the S.C. Senate.”  These would seem like very good credentials for a member of the legislature, but I am nagged by a candidate with likely kinship within the body.  

Mr. Weaver is a lawyer with the McNair Law firm – the powerful McNair Law firm.  That is a fantastic career point for a legal resume, but McNair’s associations within the State House are strong and wide.  This isn’t to suggest in any way that those connections are illegal, unethical or in any way wrong, but it is strong and wide and powerful connections that brought us to a special election.

I have no reason to believe either Messrs Weaver or Deason are insincere or easily subjugated to corruption, but Lexington has been victimized by “the network” over and over and caution should be our best action.  

The two candidates to which I have migrated are Anne Marie Eckstorm Green and Chris Wooten.

Currently serving on the Lexington 1 School Board, Ms. Green is bull whip smart and energetic.  Given the problems facing our schools: bullying, drug and alcohol abuse, diversity, funding, growing population and more, Ms. Green’s considerable talents and energy are best suited for the School Board – for the time being.  Her’s is a future from which Lexington will greatly benefit, but I feel her value to the community is best realized with her on the school board.

Chris Wooten is a local business man, a Marine and former South Carolina state trooper.  He has no political experience, a point he routinely makes himself.  But he knows the issues and can talk to and about them with aplomb.  What I find particularly attractive about Mr. Wooten is what I can best describe as his “core.”  He is a thinker and a learner and his passions are those we all want for our political leaders.  

My sense, my gut bring me to the conclusion to vote for Chris Wooten for the District 69 seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives.  

No matter your choice, vote.  Unless we tell politicians and candidates for political office that we are watching and we WILL vote, the sins of the past, by both politicians and the electorate will be repeated.

Two Senators, 5 Questions About the Roads Bill

L&M asked Lexington County Senators Ronnie Cromer and Shane Massey five questions about the roads bill currently being finalized in the Senate.

The South Carolina Senate is nearing an agreement to fund road projects in the state.

1. Are in you favor of the bill?
2. What do you see as its strong points?
3. What are its weaknesses?
4. Is it sustainable?  That is, will it provide the funding for the years required to bring state, county and local roads up to par?
5. How do you see this affecting the court ordered fixes to rural schools?

Here are their responses :


Senator Ronnie Cromer   Ronnie Cromer
1. Are in you favor of the bill?

Yes, I was one of the Senators proposing it because we had stalled and could see no way out of the box we were in.Are in you favor of the bill?

2. What do you see as its strong points?

It gives the DOT the same amount of money that would have been realized out of the House passed Road’s bill without raising taxes, $400 million out of at least a $Billion surplus this year.

3. What are its weaknesses?

If we experience a down year, we may not have a sustainable source of funding.

4. Is it sustainable?  That is, will it provide the funding for the years required to bring state, county and local roads up to par?

See no. 3

5. How do you see this affecting the court ordered fixes to rural schools?

I do not see it affecting the court ordered opinion to fix rural schools.  The court said nothing about a proposed amount of funding.  We have many other issues affecting our rural schools that need to be fixed besides just funding.  However, if funding is found to be an issue, then we still have close to a $billion in surplus from this past budget year.

 


Senator Shane MasseyShane Massey

1. Are in you favor of the bill?

Yes, I’ll vote for it.

2. What do you see as its strong points?

The strongest part of the agreement is completely revamps the governing structure of SCDOT by having the governor appoint all members of the commission, and it makes the SIB more accountable by requiring SCDOT commission approval of all decisions. 

3. What are its weaknesses?

The biggest weakness, I think, is the funding mechanism.  The agreement uses $400M in recurring General Fund dollars to pay for infrastructure improvements.  That General Fund money will come, primarily, from income taxpayers.  So we’re not getting a contribution from nonresidents (as the gas tax would), we’re not collecting more from large trucks that cause more damage (as the truckers actually asked us to do), and it requires the few SC residents who pay income taxes to foot the bill.  It moves the ball forward, but it’s not great financial policy.

4. Is it sustainable?  That is, will it provide the funding for the years required to bring state, county and local roads up to par?

Yes, I am confident it is sustainable.  The BEA has certified that we’ll have more than $400M in additional recurring dollars, so I am comfortable with that.

5. How do you see this affecting the court ordered fixes to rural schools?

I don’t think this will really have an impact on the legislative response to the Abbeville decision.  We were most likely going to have tax relief in the neighborhood of $400M or so.  This deal means we’re probably not going to get that tax relief.  I don’t think it impacts education at all, though.