By Colleen MacMillan || Several elected officials in Laurens County are facing allegations that they misused public funds and ignored the state’s open records law in an effort to keep those abuses from becoming public.  At least that’s according to the “investigations” tab of the Laurens County, S.C. Citizens Watch website.

“Lawsuits have been filed, and more are coming,” the webpage notes.

This legal action comes after a recent job performance evaluation revealed several troubling standards violations – potentially by multiple members of the Laurens County Council.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and federal and state laws clearly outline the obligations of public officials to the people they serve. Conversely, standards set by state and federal constitutions outline the limits of their legislative power.  Logically, one would assume that by swearing an oath of office, council members understood these obligations and limits – as well as the penalties for standards violations.  Accordingly any failure to adhere to the rules, regulations and requirements of their jobs would put them in a position to lose those jobs and, in cases of extreme standards violations, possibly even earn time behind bars.

And while South Carolina has a chronic habit of rewarding corruption as opposed to punishing it … those council members in Laurens County who think the rules don’t apply to them could be in for a rude awakening.

At a recent council meeting, Laurens County Citizens Watch president Katrina Fay updated the public on her investigation of council members’ involvement with a charity group that goes by the name of Hickory County Tavern Youth Recreation Association (HTYRA).  This association operates a county-owned recreational facility – and profits from the sale of concessions at this facility.

According to Fay, “HTYRA privately operates the facility and concession stand for revenue” and that “there would be no revenue for this company if the county didn’t build it a facility.”

“The county pays the utilities and insurance,” she adds.

In an effort to get to the bottom of HTYRA’s financing, Fay  issued a FOIA request for its expense reports and other financial information.  Not only did the entity fail to provide that information, but its financial officer testified before the county council that he doesn’t keep records for the facility.

HTYRA – a registered public charity – has allegedly failed to comply with standards on more than four occasions.  Specifically the association’s chief owners and officers neglected to disclose any record of charitable beneficiaries, company business documents, bank records, receipts or asset inventory related to their county-funded recreation facility.  From its inception in the early 1990s until now, all aspects of The Hickory Tavern Youth Recreation Facility were paid for by the public according to Fay.

The goals of this investigation are clear:  To get to the bottom of this organization’s financing and bring down the walls of secrecy put up by public officials in an effort to conceal what appears to be the misuse of public dollars.

In a state rife with corruption – and contempt for open records law – those are commendable objectives.

Fay says she’s uncovered even more abuses related to Laurens County Council … so count on FITS to bring you those stories and keep you updated on the status of this investigation.