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SC Supreme Court Issues A Warning To Local Governments

Playing fast and loose with the rules can cost you …

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It has been over a decade since Joey Preston was removed from his position as administrator of Anderson County, South Carolina. Upon the occasion of his removal, Preston received a $1.1 million settlement and a 2006 GMC Yukon Denali owned by the county.

This week, however, the S.C. supreme court ruled that Preston must repay this settlement – minus withholdings – because Anderson County council did not have a quorum present at the time it voted to approve the agreement.

“Because the council acted without the quorum necessary for taking valid action, the severance agreement is null and void,” chief justice Donald Beatty wrote in the unanimous opinion. “Because we hold that the severance agreement is void, it is clear Preston realized a benefit that would be inequitable for him to retain in the absence of the agreement.”

Beatty had previously referred to the legal wrangling between Preston and Anderson County as “the case from hell.”

In addition to receiving the settlement money, “the county will also be able to go after Preston for legal fees in the case, which to date have reached around $4 million,” according to Greg Wilson of The Anderson Observer.

Preston’s deal was struck in November 2008 by a lame duck county council. When the new council took office the following year, its members sued to recover the money. Trial courts and appellate courts have weighed in on the matter, issuing conflicting rulings.

(Click to view)

(Via: Anderson County, S.C.)

The case involving Preston – who is now the administrator in Bamberg County, S.C. – is incredibly complex. Convoluted, actually. But there is a relatively simple takeaway from it: Local governments must follow the rules.

And one of those rules is if you don’t have a quorum of duly-elected representatives, you don’t get to take official actions on behalf of your constituents.

It would seem this is a no-brainer, but in South Carolina apparently a refresher was required.

One former member of Anderson County council who voted against the settlement with Preston way back in 2008 made this basic point in a media interview last fall.

“It is not just a matter of getting the money back; it is a matter of there being consequences,” Wilson told reporter Kirk Brown of The Anderson Independent-Mail last fall, “If we don’t have accountability and consequences for bad actions, we’re only going to be repeating (them).”

We concur …

Too often in South Carolina, those in power make their own rules in order to enrich themselves at taxpayers’ expense – or to cover up previous self-dealing. In a climate of gratuitous government graft, we welcome instances in which there are actually “consequences for bad actions,” although they tend to be the exception to the rule in the Palmetto State.

Hopefully this ruling will set an important precedent, though, particularly as long-overdue investigations involving settlement agreements reached by other corrupt local governments begin to ramp up.

Anyway, for those of you interested in learning more about the Anderson case, here is the supreme court’s ruling …

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(Via: S.C. Supreme Court)

-FITSNews

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