Tuesday night’s Laurens County Council meeting devolved into a shouting match between Council Chairman Joe Wood and supporters of a county communications audit who attended the regular meeting.
Overshadowed by the late-meeting barbs was the announcement at the opening of the meeting that Councilman Ted Nash had decided not to reconsider his vote, which gave permission for County Administrator Jon Caime to contract The Spyglass Group to complete the audit of the county’s communication systems. The decision to bring in Spyglass was designed to save potentially thousands of dollars in overpayments to phone and other communication providers.
When Wood announced that Nash would stand by his “yea” vote and not ask for reconsideration, many of those attending the meeting applauded.
Laurens County Emergency Management Director Joey Avery said there is evidence to suggest that a T-1 line installed in the late 1990s was supposedly disconnected in the early 2000s, but the county might still have been billed for it. If so, the county will pursue a remedy from the service provider. Still, it is unclear how much the line has cost the county.
At an earlier meeting, Caime told council members that particular line, which was discovered by Spyglass auditors, cost $3,300 per month.
Brenda Stewart, of Clinton, was among those who addressed council in support of both the audit and the efforts of Caime to cut government waste.
“The troubling thing is that this wasn’t a unanimous vote,” Stewart told council members. “For those of us in the business sector, this is a win-win.”
Stewart had also distributed a letter to local media berating council for not backing Caime and Nash’s request to reconsider his vote out of the public eye.
After closing the public comments portion of the meeting, Wood responded with a lengthy statement, defending the “no” votes of himself and councilman David Pitts, saying he believes they were following county ordinances. But he continued on, attacking Stewart in particular.
“I’d advise you the next time you write a letter to the public or the editor with criticism of council that you check out the information that little bird has fed you or wrote for you – (it’s) full of inaccurate information,” Wood said.
“You need to take care of your own problems instead of (trying) to straighten out ours,” Wood continued.
At that point, councilman Stewart Jones, who has had a strident relationship with Wood since joining council, erupted.
“I don’t think it’s right that you sit here and tell people that this isn’t their business,” Jones said. “They’re citizens. . . . “I’m leaving; this is a joke.”
Wood asked Laurens County Sheriff Don Reynolds, who was in attendance with several deputies and officers from the LCSO, to remove Jones, but Reynolds attempted to mediate the situation.
“We need to be professionals – especially this line right here and myself,” Reynolds said, motioning toward the council members. “If we can’t allow these people to speak. . . . I’ve sit here and watched a group of people ruining my county. What are we going to get out of running each other down? What are we going to get out of it?”
Jones eventually left the meeting before it adjourned into executive session to consider an economic-development project.
Before the meeting closed, council members offered final comments.
“I’d like to take my time tonight to apologize to all of you, the taxpaying citizens of Laurens County,” said Councilman Garrett McDaniel. “To say the least, this meeting has been very unprofessional, and you deserve more from us as leadership as a whole. I sincerely hope we can get past whatever differences we may have in our ideals and join together to make Laurens County better.”