Bolton: A culture of clubbinesss? Next Lexington County, SC, sheriff could have a tough time changing it

BY WARREN BOLTON
Associate Editor
The State
March 1, 2015

LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC — LEXINGTON COUNTY sheriff candidate Ed Felix denounces what he calls the “clubbiness” that characterizes the culture of the department he wants to lead.

He said if he’s elected he won’t tolerate cronyism and will hire based on credentials and ability rather than who you know. “The boat’s going to rock when I walk in,” Mr. Felix said.

Candidate Justin Britt said the sheriff’s department is no place for political patronage, favoritism and hiring friends. The “days of deals and back scratching” at the sheriff’s department would come to an end under his leadership, he said.

While candidate Jay Koon, assistant police chief in the town of Lexington, doesn’t think the culture at the department is that bad, he said that “in the previous administration we got way too political” and declared he would cling to his values as a law officer and stress honesty and integrity.

West Columbia police chief Dennis Tyndall said politics have no place in police work and that he’ll closely examine the culture of the department and demand professionalism.

Each of the four candidates has declared he will make it a priority to rebuild the sheriff’s department’s image, which was tainted by the demise of then-Sheriff James Metts, who pleaded guilty to a federal felony charge. For sure, residents will be looking to the next sheriff to restore their confidence in the department.

But it’s not easy to change the culture of an organization that was cultivated over four decades under the leadership of a man who, by the time he left office, was the most powerful public official in Lexington County. In addition to running the sheriff’s department and jail — where he hired and fired at will — Mr. Metts also oversaw all public safety agencies for homeland security purposes. He also had wide latitude when it came to how he managed his budget. His power was virtually unchecked.

That’s a hard act to follow, and obviously, bringing change could prove to be difficult. Rooting out that “clubbiness” Mr. Felix refers to could be particularly hard.

Part of the reason is that the hire-your-buddy system that candidates suggest has settled in the sheriff’s department isn’t unique to that agency. You can find it throughout local government in the county. To put it plainly: Lexington County is a bit incestuous when it comes to government. It’s the culture.

Need examples?

When County Council made former Sheriff Metts head of homeland security in 2003, he hired Tim James as his public safety chief to oversee those duties. But in 2005, Mr. James surprised council members — who were by that time grooming him to become administrator — when he left to be head of security at Lexington Medical Center, the county hospital.

That’s the same Lexington Medical Center whose foundation hired Lexington County resident and then-sate Rep. Nikki Haley, now our governor, as a $110,000-a-year fundraiser. But, rest assured, Mrs. Haley didn’t use her position as a state representative to lobby for Lexington Medical Center in that high-paid position. It’s true. The House Ethics Committee told us so.

When Mr. James left the public safety position in 2005, what did Mr. Metts do? He hired then-County Council chairman Bruce Rucker, then the longest-serving council member, of course.

In 2009, the town of Lexington hired County Councilman Johnny Jeffcoat as its economic director, a position that had been abolished four years earlier because town leaders said it duplicated the efforts of county officials and local business groups.

Mr. Jeffcoat’s job entailed trying to bring new restaurants, retailers and corporate offices to town. It was an arrangement fraught with possible conflict. Who would the councilman represent when the town’s interest conflicted with that of the county? Beyond that, Mr. Jeffcoat’s hiring appeared to be an attempt by the town to gain favor with a member of County Council.

Town officials seemed oblivious to the obvious pitfalls of such an arrangement. Perhaps that was because the town’s elected leader had a questionable arrangement of his own: Then-Lexington Mayor Randy Halfacre served as executive director of the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce while continuing to hold public office.

Dare I mention former Lexington Town Councilman Danny Frazier, who is accused in an indictment of bribing Mr. Metts? In addition to being on council, he held jobs as an adviser to West Columbia on annexation and to Sheriff Metts on community concerns. He lost those jobs amid controversy over his involvement in advising Internet sweepstakes parlors seeking to expand the online gambling that some state officials deemed illegal.

No doubt, a sheriff determined to run his department on the up-and-up can change that culture, though deeply engrained.

But the job is made tougher because he’ll run into it time and again as he traverses Lexington County, where “clubbiness” is business as usual.

Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or wbolton@thestate.com.

Man Shot at Lexington Medical; No Danger to Public

(WLTX) – A man was found with a gunshot wound in a bathroom at Lexington Medical Center Friday, but officials says there is no threat to the public.

The man was found inside a private restroom where the door was locked, and he was alone. Lexington Medical Center officials say he is being cared for in the emergency room.

They believe the incident was isolated, and no one else was involved.

Lexington Medical Center’s Public Safety Department will hand the case to the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department for investigation.

Opportunities For An Advanced Manufacturing Scholarship

(WLTX)– Midlands Tech and Michelin North America are training and educating high school students who want careers in advanced manufacturing.

Dutch Fork High School senior Taylor Place says welding is a skill he learned at early in life.

“Working in my grandfathers shop and he had a welder in his garage and that just sparked it,” said Place.

The president of Midlands Technical College Dr. Marshall “Sonny” White, says that it’s students like Taylor who he and Michelin North America are looking for. They’re offering the “Michelin Technical Scholar Program” to select seniors at Lexington One and Lexington-Richland Five who want to major in electronic technology. Dr. White says he hope this program will change students’ perceptions about manufacturing careers.

“The students can be come interested in this while they are in high school by the time they graduate from high school,” said White.

White says a strong educational background and skills are needed to work in advanced manufacturing jobs. He says with applications in the hundreds. It’s a competitive program with many benefits.

” Full-time [scholarships] paid through Midlands Technical College, get all of their books paid for, Michelin will give them a half-time job and schedule that around their schooling,” said White.

Which is peeking the interest of students like Taylor who took the assessment test for the scholarship.

“It’s pretty interesting to me that Michelin, a big company like that would want students coming out. They came and you take the test they have. I realized when I passed, the next step was to do the interview process. And that kind of caught my eye, ” said Place.

Scholars of the program earn a degree leaving debt free in hopes of potential job offer at the Michelin Lexington site.

“It would be a great opportunity coming out of high school and going to college knowing that you have the financial background already stable for you,” said Place.

Site chosen for Cayce’s new elementary school

(The State) Lexington 2 officials settled on a 23.8-acre site Thursday next to Busbee Creative Arts Academy as the home of a new elementary school.

The site along the south side of Cayce is the School Board’s second choice, acquired for $3.3 million.

Its selection comes after state education officials vetoed the initial pick.

That rejection stemmed from concern about putting a school with 1,000 students along heavily traveled U.S. 321 a few blocks west of I-26.

The new site near 12th St. and Taylor Road doesn’t have that problem, Superintendent-elect Thomas Siler said.

It also was the top choice of an advisory panel that developed plans for new schools and other improvements.

The new site’s price is more than triple that of the parcel dropped.

Plans call for the $25.4 million school to open in fall 2017 as the new home for students now at Taylor Elementary and Davis Early Childhood Center.

It is one of two new elementary schools being developed.

The other is just off U.S. 378 midway between I-26 and I-20, sitting a half-mile west of Lexington Middle School.

Both schools are part of a $225 million package of new facilities and renovations approved at a Nov. 4 referendum.

Gaston Man Wanted for Burglary

 (WLTX) – A Gaston man is wanted by the Lexington County Sheriffs Department in connection to a break-in.

Lexington County Sheriff’s Department fugitive investigators are seeking help from citizens in finding a 29-year-old Gaston man who is wanted on an arrest warrant in connection with a break-in that occurred at a garage outside a home on Platt Springs Road near Lexington on January 16.

Lexington County Sheriff Lewis McCarty said Matthew Alexander Young, 29, is wanted on an arrest warrant on a charge of third-degree burglary. The sheriff said Young should be considered to be armed and dangerous.

An arrest warrant alleges that at about 11:32 a.m. on January 16, Young entered a garage that is detached from a home on Platt Springs Road. Officers say Young stole electronic tools, other electronic items and food from the garage. Detectives say Young then pawned some of the stolen items for cash at a local pawn show. Officers also recovered additional stolen items at a home on Deer Moss Trail near Lexington.

Gaston Police Chief Shawn Mohundro said Young also is wanted on an arrest warrant that the Gaston Police Department obtained for Young on a charge of armed robbery. The arrest warrant alleges that at about 9 a.m. on Monday, February 23 Young robbed the Gaston Family Pharmacy on Mack Street, stealing prescription medication. Young left the pharmacy in a green Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle.

Anyone with information should call Crimestoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC, or e-mail a tip in to www.midlandscrimestoppers.com. You can also text information in by texting “TIPSC” plus your message to CRIMES (274637). Either way you choose, your identity will remain anonymous, and you could be eligible for a cash reward.

Men arrested for breaking into two school buildings

WACH) – Lexington County Sheriff’s Department deputies arrested an 18-year-old Lexington man and 20-year-old Lexington man, Tuesday, on charges that the two men broke into buildings at local schools.

Lexington County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson John Allard said the men broke into buildings at the Lexington Technology Center on Augusta Highway near Lexington and Lexington High School on Augusta Highway near Lexington between 10 p.m. on February 21 and 6 a.m. on February 22.

Deputies also charged the two men with breaking into a motor vehicle that was parked at a Lexington County School District One maintenance building on Pisgah Church Road near Lexington during the same period of time that the school burglaries occurred.

Lexington County Sheriff Lewis McCarty said a school resource officer obtained arrest warrants for Alexander Rhodes Jeffcoat, 18, of 301 Harbor Heights Drive in Lexington; and Joseph Eric Perrotta, 20, of 161 Foley Lane in Lexington, on two counts each of second-degree burglary and one count each of breaking into a motor vehicle and criminal conspiracy.

Arrest warrants allege that between 10 p.m. on February 21 and 6 a.m. on February 22 Jeffcoat and Perrotta unlawfully entered a building at the Lexington Technology Center in order to try to steal a golf cart that was worth about $500, McCarty said. The golf cart was in a classroom that is used to teach students about small motors.

Arrest warrants allege that Jeffcoat and Perrotta stole athletics booster club clothing and other items that were worth between $500 and $1,000 from Lexington High School. Deputies recovered the stolen clothing and other items at the homes of Jeffcoat and Perrotta.

In addition, arrest warrants allege that between 10 p.m. on February 21 and 6 a.m. on February 22 Jeffcoat and Perrotta broke into a 2008 white Chevrolet van that was parked at a School District One maintenance building and stole one red tool box and one iPad tablet computer.

The school resource officer conducted the investigation in cooperation with School District One, McCarty said.

McCarty asked anyone with information about the involvement of Jeffcoat or Perrotta in additional criminal activity to contact the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department at (803) 785-8230 or CrimeStoppers at 1-888-CRIME-SC. Citizens also can provide information anonymously by accessing the Crime Tip link on the Sheriff’s Department web site (www.lexingtonsheriff.com).

Lexington Medical Center/Blue Cross Blue Shield Reach Agreement

After months of negotiation and just before a March 1st deadline, Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and the Lexington Medical Center have reached an agreement that keeps the Midlands medical care giant and affiliated physicians in the Blue Cross Preferred Blue network.

Following is a statement posted on the BCBS website this evening:

BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and Lexington Medical Center have reached agreement on their contract, which will keep the medical center, its affiliated physicians and its other health care providers in the BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina Preferred Blue® (PPO) network. There will be no interruption of in-network coverage.

Together, we agreed to work collaboratively to improve health care quality and patient outcomes while also reducing medical expenses.

We understand the important roles that we play as providers of health care and as a health insurer, and most importantly want you to know how much we value you, our patients and members. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by our earlier inability to reach agreement.