2012-03-09 / Government / Neighborhood

Richland County continues discussion over unified fire system

By Mike Cox

Fire Chief Aubrey Jennings and his second in command were present at this week’s Richland County council meeting once again. Councilman Greg Pearce reported on the most recent Fire Contract work session. Several of those same fire fighters who attended the last council meeting were present, along with council members from both local entities and many concerned citizens.

Pearce emphasized that many issues covered in the new contract are mutually agreed upon items between Richland County and Columbia, (which is an achievement in itself ). The two committees will work to resolve the differences and deliver the updated contract to both governing bodies. Hopefully, a new working agreement will be in place soon.

The annual audit presentation proved to be as riveting as last year’s. Richland County once again achieved high marks for taking care of the tax payers’ money, at least the accounting parts of it. The auditor’s opinion was unqualified, which means nothing out of the ordinary was found.

A suggestion by the auditor to follow established guidelines for the fund balance gave the entire council heartburn. A work session was scheduled to explain the changes to everyone.

County employee John Hopkins was formally introduced as the Register of Deeds director after serving for several months as interim. Hopkins has been with the ROD since 2005.

A slideshow and summary was presented on the recent Red Tail celebration, organized by Stephany Snowden and the Richland Public Affairs office. A couple of South Carolinians were members of the Tuskegee Airmen and were on hand to sign posters and enjoy the attention of 680 appreciative folks.

Karen Irick spoke during citizen’s input; she last voiced her opinion in November of 2005 when she complained about the lack of quality water in her Hopkins community. She was back to simply say thank you. The new facility was recently opened and dedicated. Irick waited for three hours to speak those two words.

The council voted to do a test drive on the current citizen’s input rules. Now, anyone who wishes to speak to an agenda item that doesn’t require a public hearing signs up and speaks early in the meeting. Anyone who wants to speak to the council about anything not on that night’s agenda must wait until the end of the meeting, as Irick did.

The council will change the rules for three months as a test and allow a limited citizen’s input at the beginning of the council meeting. Anyone speaking about an agenda item will be allowed to speak first. Time permitting, those with other county business to discuss will also be offered an opportunity to speak with a limit if 15 people at two minutes per person or a total of 30 minutes of actual speaking time. Any leftover speakers will have another opportunity to voice their concerns at the end of the meeting.

Adam Miller was appointed to the Accommodations Tax Committee, and Ashley Goodwine was added to the Employee Grievance Committee. After two Ethics Commission opinions, suggestions of possible collusion by Bill Malinowski, concerns of the appearance of impropriety by Val Hutchinson, a position on the Internal Audit Committee vacant for several years was filled by Sandra Manning, wife of council member Jim Manning.

Beginning in April, council meetings will be televised.

Chair Paul Livingston, Vice Chair Damon Jeter, Val Hutchinson, Norman Jackson, Gwen Kennedy, Bill Malinowski, Jim Manning, Greg Pearce, Seth Rose, and Kelvin Washington were present. Joyce Dickerson was absent.

More detailed information as well as complete agendas and minutes from past meetings can be found at richlandonline.com.

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