Credit Questions Asked
To say he was surprised is an understatement - Laurens County Council Chairman Joe Wood saw his name on a list of credit (procurement) card charges from one of more than 100 cards issued by the county - Wood doesn’t have a Laurens County credit card.
That was one of the revelations Tuesday night as council member Stewart Jones and businesswoman Brenda Stewart of Clinton urged the council to endorse a move to post county credit card charges on-line. Both said it would enhance county transparency, and council member Dr. David Pitts said it works for his employer – District 56 schools.
Stewart said a review of credit card charges for the past 2 years shows county employees buying material from Academy Sports, Cabella’s and Hobby Lobby, and charging lunch at local restaurants. Some charges make it apparent that employees are attending annual conferences, but others are “questionable” outings to golf resorts. Jones said in July 2017, the county reported it issued 45 – 50 credit cards, then later announced the number at 101.
“There are some serious questions,” Jones said.
Two local businesspeople said they appreciate the county’s business, and asked the council not to jump to conclusions that most charges are unjustified. To coin a phrase from the Laurens County Chamber of Commerce, Wood said county employees should “Shop Laurens County First.”
Jones and Stewart said they endorse that, but there need to be firm guidelines on when and where a county employee uses a county-issued credit card. As a business owner, Stewart said these cards can be the most often-abused aspect of running a business.
Jones wants all county transactions posted on-line. He said county residents Stewart and Rick Shealy filed a FOIA (SC Freedom of Information Act) request for documents they could review. Stewart gave the council a list of “questionable” credit card charges.
Stewart said she was looking for patterns – one Laurens County credit card was used at Hobby Lobby 6 times in one day. She said 3-4 times a day using a card at the same business constitutes a pattern. ACE Hardware store owner Lance Robertson said 3-4 times a day would not be unusual for a county employee fixing a plumbing problem. Stewart denied she, Shealy and Jones are “targeting” any local businesses.
“We want local businesses to thrive and be successful. They need county contracts that make them competitive,” Stewart said.
“They had me on there (list of charges). I have never owned a county credit card. I have been offered one. I have never had one,” Wood said.
County Administrator Jon Caime and Finance Director Lisa Kirk are charged with getting to the bottom of the “questionable” charges. Wood said, “This concerns everybody in the county who works for the county – elected officials and all.”
The council – as a committee of the whole chaired by member Diane Anderson – will consider policy changes once Caime and Kirk make a report of their findings.
Jones said, “Government needs to be more transparent, more accountable. I’ve gotten a number of calls today that we are targeting businesses; that is not the case. These are golf resorts and beach trips – charges that I don’t know why we are paying. … If we give the public a level of transparency, we will think twice about some of these purchases.”