Laurens County Councilman Stewart Jones said he wants to see more accountability and transparency from the county government when it comes to spending – particularly with the county’s 101 credit cards.
Jones is a proponent of putting all of the county’s credit-card statements online in an effort to keep the books open on spending by county employees.
A request made by Clinton businesswoman Brenda Stewart and Rick Shealy through the state’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) raised questions about some spending by county employees, Jones said.
“Government needs to be more transparent, more accountable,” Jones said. “If we give the public a level of transparency, we will think twice about some of these purchases.”
Stewart, speaking during public comments, said she noticed trends that included multiple purchases from stores such as Hobby Lobby and Academy Sports in one day as she pored over credit card records.
She also said she would like to see agreements in place to make local businesses more competitive for county purchases.
According to Jones, some local business owners felt targeted by the numbers being offered up with little context. Jones said that was not the case.
Lance Robertson, owner of Ace Hardware in Laurens, said his store offers “MAP” pricing, so many of his products are the same price as online retailers and larger big-box stores. He also offers the county a 20-percent discount.
In his business, he said, multiple purchases by the same people in a single day are nothing unusual – county employees or not.
“They say never start a plumbing job in the afternoon because you’d never have time to go back and forth and get everything you need,” Robertson said.
Jones said other questions remained, including purchases at golf resorts as some employees apparently traveled out of town for meetings.
County Council Chairman Joe Wood also wondered how his name appeared on one of the credit card statements.
“I have never had a county credit card,” Wood said. “I’ve been offered one, but I’ve never had one.”
Wood charged Laurens County Administrator Jon Caime and his staff with looking into the county’s credit card system and usage, including whether or not to routinely put the statements on the county’s website.
County Councilman David Pitts said placing the statements online has served his employer well. Pitts is assistant superintendent with Laurens County District 56 Schools.