Last month, I penned a column on the recent rash of mindless municipal growth infecting Easley, South Carolina – a town of nearly 25,000 people in the Palmetto Upstate which has exploded in recent years due to its liberal use of annexation authority.
“Over the past decade, Easley has embarked on an annexation spree which has fueled significant population growth – and padded the pockets of those who manage its taxpayer-funded bureaucracies and public utilities,” I noted in my report.
One of those utilities has a city-backed monopoly on all of its new incoming residents, too … yet another example of how local power is often exploited by ethically challenged county and municipal “leaders.”
Unfortunately, such “leaders” – including incumbent mayor Butch Womack – have failed to responsibly manage this influx. As a result of their mismanagement, “vital services are being stretched past the breaking point – while hidden costs are being passed on to taxpayers and homeowners at a time when they can least afford to shoulder any new burdens,” I noted.
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Womack is running for reelection this fall – but his mayoral bid is on the ropes. Next Tuesday (November 21, 2023), he is scheduled to face off against rival Lisa Talbert in a head-to-head runoff election after the two finished as the top two vote-getters in a municipal election last Tuesday.
Womack actually finished second in the initial voting – and has some ground to make up next Tuesday.
As voters prepare to cast their ballots a second time for this office, Womack dropped a bomb at a city council meeting earlier this week – alleging that a sitting city council member had broken the law by releasing confidential information from a password-protected city computer.
Womack did not name the official, however documents (.pdf) submitted to the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) this week by a group of local leaders laid out the case against her. According to the local leaders – senator Rex Rice, state representative Neal Collins and city council members Chris Bowers, Henry Wilson and Roy Costner – Easley councilwoman Denise Davidson “forwarded an email that directed (council) to a city computer containing private and privileged information.”
This email in question was sent on March 18, 2022.
Davidson subsequently “forwarded this email to a private citizen” named Donna Rainey sometime in September of 2022. Rainey has since been elected as a member of Easley city council. Both Rainey and Davidson are allies of Talbert – and supporters of her mayoral bid against Womack.
Here is the email …
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What exactly went down with this mysterious computer? It’s not immediately clear, but information purportedly stored on it soon began making its way into the public arena.
“Information from this computer, including information of private citizens, was subsequently used for political purposes in recent city elections,” the leaders alleged in their letter to SLED.
What sort of information? Specifically, a “list of sixty-two private individuals and one church” purportedly in receipt of loans with unpaid balances totaling approximately $720,000. The spreadsheet detailing these loans contained the names of those individuals allegedly receiving them along with dates and amounts (for both the original loans and the unpaid balances).
However, it made no reference as to their funding source(s) …
The dates on the loans ranged from 1998 to 2014 and the amounts ranged from $1,300 to $80,000. Most were issued between 2000 and 2010 and were in the neighborhood of $15,000 to $25,000. Only nine of the 62 loans were completely paid off, according to the spreadsheet. Several of them had no money paid toward the amount borrowed.
Assuming these loans were granted under the auspices of a government program, basic information such as that contained in the spreadsheet would likely be discoverable under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
According to Rice, Collins and the other local leaders, however, the release of the spreadsheet constituted a “breach of private citizens’ information,” one which was “disturbing” and required investigation by “a neutral party.”
“Monday night’s allegations of criminal activity have raised serious concerns,” Collins wrote on X. “In the interest of fairness for all, the state and county officials representing Easley have jointly submitted a letter to the SLED requesting a thorough investigation into the matter.”
So is this investigation request a legitimate attempt to get to the bottom of criminal behavior? Or is it politically motivated?
This media outlet has reached out to SLED seeking any information it has available regarding the request. We have also reached out to councilwoman Davidson to get her take on the allegations.
Count on us to keep our audience updated on the latest developments in this story …
INVESTIGATION REQUEST …
(Via: S.C. House)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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