Abbeville council should get dessert after meal
Saturday, July 27, 2013 8:00 PM
You would think folks in Abbeville would have a deeper appreciation for history; after all, the city has long been referred to as the cradle and deathbed of the Confederacy.
Recent history, as provided by the town of Saluda and Greenwood County, should have sounded Abbeville City Council's retreat from a per diem form of reimbursement for expenses it incurs. But it did not. On Tuesday, five council members thumbed their noses at the taxpayers while four cast a vote for transparency and accountability.
At issue was an amendment that would have retooled how the council and mayor are reimbursed for council-related expenses. The current setup, per diem, establishes a flat rate of reimbursement while the amendment would have based reimbursement on actual expenses legitimized by receipts..
Apparently, keeping track of a few receipts that would reflect how they spent taxpayers' money is too much trouble for the five who opposed the change. In fact, at least one councilman, Gus Wilson, figures what the folks back home don't know is fine. To his way of thinking, it's perfectly fine to get a fixed rate for a meal even if all he eats is a peanut butter sandwich.
Maybe that doesn't strike some readers as a big deal; after all, so many businesses operate precisely this way, giving traveling employees a fixed amount of money to cover meal expenses while on the job. Here's how that works: An employer gives, say, $50 to the employee for a day's meals. It doesn't matter whether the employee buys a snack out of a vending machine or sits down to a decent meal, but he only gets $50. Whatever he might spend above that amount is out of his own pocket.
But that's the business world and the money belongs to the business, not the taxpayer, which is precisely why four members of Council favored a reimbursement system that would hold them accountable to the taxpayers.
Those four - Josh Baughman, Franklin Cape, Doyle Kidd and Mayor Sarah Sherwood - do seem to recall the history lesson provided by Greenwood County Council and Saluda Town Council. Additionally, they seem to understand and respect some rather substantial legal counsel as several state attorneys general said municipalities should reimburse elected officials for actual expenses and not on a per diem basis. Now, as Councilman Spencer Sorrow pointed out in Tuesday's meeting, that's just an opinion. True, Mr. Sorrow, but it's a rather educated opinion from some rather learned attorneys who rose to the state's top attorney post. We note the interpretation of the relevant state statute was shared by several attorneys general and not a handful of upstart law school students, but apparently you know the law better than they.
Sorrow and his four associates on council who want to retain the status quo of pocketing tax dollars with no accountability procedures in place - that's Bertha Crawford, Delano Freeman, Faye Thomas and Wilson - have chosen to ignore the state attorneys general and even the city's own legal counsel, Thomas Hite III, who also expressed concern the per diem reimbursement would not set well with the public if a question arose about unaccounted for expenses.
Prior to casting its 5-4 vote to retain the per diem reimbursement method, Wilson shared additional thoughts on the proposed change, noting having to retain receipts would be "aggravating." Indeed. Shame on the taxpayers of Abbeville expecting its council and mayor to retain receipts while attending, say, a state Municipal Association meeting. Apparently Wilson, and perhaps those aligned with him in Tuesday's vote, don't bother to keep credit card receipts when making personal purchases. Too aggravating. Yet, most people do hang onto receipts so they can reconcile expenditures against monthly bills. Aggravating as that might be.
"Most everybody does not keep up with small receipts," Wilson said. "And with our mind being most on municipal business, it's very aggravating (to keep track of receipts) for small things."
OK, we get it. The people of Abbeville should get it now, too. Keeping track of how you spend taxpayers' money while conducting the city's business is aggravating, a small thing in Council's big picture world. You're about the people's business, so the people shouldn't bother with such details as knowing how much you're spending on meals.
Maybe therein lies part of the problem. Some councilmembers' perspective is so skewed they think being accountable for how they spend even a seemingly little amount of tax dollars is a small thing.
It's a shame the whole of Abbeville City Council doesn't take the refreshing stance its newly elected mayor has on such matters.
"... we have to be accountable for taxpayer dollars and how it's spent," Sherwood said. "... It's a simple thing to ask for receipts for expenses."
Interesting. What's aggravating to one is seen as simple to another.
Abbeville taxpayers, you should keep this particular issue in mind when the next election comes up. Remember those who find accountability too aggravating or too small, those who think it doesn't matter what they are spending while out of town on official business while you are back home in Abbeville. Ask yourself if they really deserve to be returned to office. The arrogance they displayed and the lack of concern for your money they made evident should provide your answer.
They might not think it matters how they spend tax dollars on meals, but in the next election, you should (pardon our misspelling of the phrase) give them their just desserts