County approves dual office settlement

Barnwell County Council has approved a $20,000 settlement regarding the dual-office holding lawsuit some council members have been embroiled in for years.
The $20,000 was included in a budget-amendment ordinance passed by council during the regular meeting Jan. 14.
County Council members were named as defendants in a lawsuit filed by former members of the Barnwell County Hospital Board after council removed them from the board and then appointed council members to it.
Council members Freddie Houston, David Kenner, Keith Sloan, Lowell Jowers Sr., Joe Smith and Harold Buckmon along with former council member Travis Black were named in the suit.
The case went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled last May that council members were violating the state's dual-office holding law. The case was sent back to the Circuit Court to be reheard.
In December, council voted to agree to a proposed settlement, but no details were given at the time. The county's attorney, J.D. Mosteller, said the settlement has not yet been signed by the plaintiffs and finalized.
Houston, the council chairman, said the $20,000 is to cover the cost of the plaintiff's legal fees. He said the settlement does not include any admission of guilt from council members.
Houston said the settlement should end the case. Mosteller said the settlement also includes closure on the appeals the plaintiffs had in the hospital's bankruptcy case.
The county sold the hospital to a private company last year, but the bankruptcy process is ongoing.
The $20,000 for the settlement will come from $50,000 that was originally budgeted - but no longer needed - for a land appraisal regarding the Department of Energy's yearly payment to the county for land the Savannah River Site sits on.
Mosteller said he will provide the settlement documents to The People-Sentinel ­once they are finalized.
The budget amendment also includes $17,500 in legal fees for the sale of the hospital.
In other business:
• The total amount of the budget amendment is $308,625. Revenues are: $18,750 in carry-forward funds, $16,000 from Clerk of Court rollover funds, $100,000 in grant money to prevent sexual abuse in prisons from the Department of Justice, and $173,875 for the yet-to-be-created drug and gang task force.
• The expenses are: $173,875 for the task force, the $100,000 in grant money, $15,750 for jail management software, $27,000 for an airport employee salary, $20,000 for the hospital settlement, $17,500 for hospital sale legal fees, and $4,500 for tablets for council members to use at meetings. The difference is made up with the $50,000 originally for the DOE appraisal.
The tablets were purchased to save money on paper costs in the long run.
• Council approved a resolution and agreement regarding the DOE's annual payment in lieu of taxes to the county for the SRS land. This year's payment is set at $4.6 million, half of which will go to the county's school districts.
• Council approved the final reading of an ordinance designating 90 percent of revenues received by the county through the multicounty industrial park agreement for capital improvements. The remaining 10 percent will be for the county's discretionary use.
• Council went into closed session to discuss the situation with the Barnwell County Economic Development Commission with Mosteller and another lawyer, Robert Buchanan Jr. No action was taken after the session.