Transportation committee members clash over new ideas about penny tax

Richland County Councilman Seth Rose made his debut as a new member of the transportation ad hoc committee Tuesday and faced some pushback for some of the changes he wants to make to the billion-dollar penny transportation program.

“I’m not a very patient person when it comes to positive change,” Rose said. “That being said, I do recognize the need to make sure these changes are unquestionably exactly what’s needed and nothing is left out.”

The council-led committee met for the first time since the county was handed down a scathing audit from the South Carolina Department of Revenue that accused the county of mishandling the transportation program.

Rose proposed three motions that he says will ensure more oversight responsibility from the citizen advisory committee and return the responsibility of seeking the firms to do work on the project back to the procurement department.

One of Rose’s proposals would repeal the ordinance that set up a special procurement process for finding firms to do work under the transportation program — the very process that resulted in the council’s controversial decision to select the current project management team.

Rose’s motion failed to gain any support and was tabled for a later meeting at the suggestion of Councilman Jim Manning, who said upcoming projects would not be subject to the ordinance in question.

When Rose sought support to develop a policy rule to make sure the county’s Small and Local Business Enterprise program was funded by general fund dollars and not from the penny sales tax revenues, it was met with opposition from the other council members.

“I don’t wish to reinvent the wheel. The policy, to my knowledge, is already in place and has been put there. This is already a moot point that is being handled exactly as you’re asking,” said Councilman Bill Malinowski.

Malinowski referred to the letter sent to the Department of Revenue from County Administrator Tony McDonald that stated the program would be made a budget item.

Rose called the Small and Local Business Enterprise program a “noble cause” that should apply to all businesses in the county and should be made a policy and not a staff decision. He eventually compromised with the committee to let it be reviewed as a budget item.

Two competing motions from Rose and Councilman Norman Jackson about the responsibilities of the penny tax’s citizen watchdog committee were sent to the group to allow them to make suggestions or changes.

Rose wants to rename the group to be the Citizens’ Transportation Advisory and Oversight Committee and permit its chairperson to be an ex officio member of the ad hoc committee.

Jackson argued that the idea to give more authority to the watchdog group had been brought up before and suggested that his own failed proposal from last year — to model the citizen committee after the county’s planning committee — should be considered.

“That’s one of my frustrations is that this council continues ignore signs of problems and then at the last minute try to fix everything,” Jackson said.

Jackson said his motion from a year ago would have allowed the citizen committee to ask more questions and better inform the council.

“What I’m seeing most of the time is that we’re seeing problems but turning a blind eye,” he said of  County Council. “Then when the problem mounts … we’re trying to fix it.”

Rose said his attempt to shake up the committee was part of his duty to his constituents. He also responded to the issues brought up in the Department of Revenue audit.

“I brought these motions forward to effectuate positive change in the program and restore public trust,” he said. “District 5 sent me here to advocate on their behalf and that’s what I’m doing.”

Next on Rose’s plate is to have the county administrator review the penny team’s public relations duties.

County Chairman Torrey Rush took the lead on changing the face of the five-member committee a few days before Tuesday’s meeting by removing Councilmen Norman Jackson and Kelvin Washington.

Washington was charged two weeks ago with failing to pay taxes along with former Columbia City Councilman Brian Newman. Washington and Jackson were replaced by Rose and Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson, who was not present during Tuesday’s meeting.

The decision did not stop Jackson from showing up Tuesday and contributing to the meeting. Jackson said he thought Rush’s move was fueled by a letter Jackson sent criticizing Rush’s leadership and explaining his decision to not vote for him to be county chairman.

“I guess he got upset and retaliated,” Jackson said. “I’m the only one that has 37 years as a engineer. I am the only with transportation experience on the council.”

Rush claimed there was no malice in his decision but said it was part of his authority as the chairman. Rush was re-elected to the leadership position at the Jan. 12 County Council session.

“I’ll be moving a lot of committees around this upcoming year,” Rush said. “It’s definitely nothing personal with my appointment, it’s within the council chair’s duties to appoint council members. This is the first meeting so we we’re re-appointing subcommittees.”

Rush said he did hear that Dickerson did not want to serve on the committee and said he would reach out to other council members to see if they want to take her place.

Washington was not present Tuesday.