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Taxpayers got snookered on Lafayette Street

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
Lafayette St.

Photo above: The Lafayette Street Cottages as they appeared last week: no curbs, no sidewalks, no street lamps.

By Bill Rauch

The PALS baseball season is in full swing and the Beaufort Police Department is doing their job patrolling the parking at Pigeon Point’s Basil Green Complex.

That’s news because this year there is no parking there. In 2012, the city of Beaufort sold — no, excuse me, GAVE AWAY — the city-owned Lafayette Street parking area back in the days when the mayor’s message of the season was that the city needs “workforce housing.”

It did and still does.

It has taken five years to see the buildings go up there, and over that period there have been many excuses offered for what finally became a political fiasco. But now this baseball season with buildings on the old parking site there’s no place to park. Adding insult to injury, the buildings are not, as was promised, either “workforce” or “affordable.”

There is still one townhouse there available … for $279,500, according to the Beaufort County Association of Realtors’ Multiple Listing Service. A couple of the ones that are now under contract were sold for $300,000-plus, real estate professionals say.

The median sales price for a Northern Beaufort County home in April 2017 was $217,500, according to the Beaufort County Association of Realtors’ website.

So what do we know about what went wrong with the city’s workforce housing project that turned out to be a luxury housing project?

First, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, the city put the project out to bid and then when the bids came in they didn’t take the high bid. In doing so they left at least $50,000 of the taxpayers’ money on the table, according to people who are familiar with the project’s bids.

That’s just the beginning.

The property that was the subject of the bidding was four adjacent Lafayette Street lots, or nearly an acre, facing on a park. If the city had wished simply to liquidate the ball field’s parking area, they could have auctioned it off and gotten up to $200,000, real estate professionals say, especially considering that those bidders would have been assured by the city, as were the bidders who answered the 2012 Request for Proposals (RFP), that the four lots could be subdivided into six.  

The city took the haircut (in that they received nothing for the land, the transaction might better be described as a “head-shaving”) because its leadership thought — or at least they said they thought — they were subsidizing a workforce housing project, meaning broadly that the townhomes to be built there would be affordable for nurses, or firefighters or teachers. 

The 2012 RFP is replete, for example, with affordable housing guidelines, definitions and other related financial information.

The city clearly provided the $200,000 subsidy so that the end product would be affordable. 

But bona fide workforce or affordable housing price points would be 35-45 percent of what the Lafayette Street units are selling for.

A 2014 city press release that was bragging on the results before the final sales prices were known tells it all: “City leaders, through the Beaufort Redevelopment Commission, in 2012 sought proposals from developers to create affordable and appropriate housing on the then city-owned vacant land.” 

As the project bogged down and became increasingly embarrassing, later portrayals sought to spin the project as one that was initiated by the city’s Redevelopment Commission, but the 2012 RFP is careful to state that “Final approval (of the bids) rests with the members of the City Council of the City of Beaufort at their sole discretion.”

Apparently there were no timelines or purchase price ceilings placed on the deeds or into the final contract of sale. Or if there were, there’s been no word to date of any lawsuit to be brought by the city to recover damages based on those breaches.

The 2012 RFP also called for streetscape improvements — e.g., streetlights, curbs and sidewalks — but there’s no sign of them either.

With all the expertise that is available to City Hall, real estate professionals ask, how could the city have gotten such a simple transaction so wrong?

The taxpayers may care, or maybe they’re used to it.

But the Basil Green fans really wish they still had a place to park when they go to watch the youngsters play ball.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

This isn’t something you see every day

in Contributors/Lee Scott/Voices by
An elephant and a dog play in the water. Photo by Lee Scott.
An elephant and a dog play in the water. Photo by Lee Scott.

By Lee Scott

Recently, my spouse and I did a boat delivery from Beaufort up to the Chesapeake Bay. We have done this trip numerous times and for some reason, it never gets boring. 

It seems like there is something always going on like, dolphins playing in the boat wake and unusual birds sitting on the side of the marsh. Then there are kayakers, paddle boarders, and jet skis gliding by as you pass through their territory. 

No matter how many times we make this trip, something happens, and this time it was something totally unique.

I was at the helm of the sailboat and my spouse was below looking at the chart book. As I looked down the river, it appeared that a bunch of boats were gathering around some object in the water. At first I thought it was a large inflatable raft, but when I looked with the binoculars, I thought I saw an elephant in the water.

Now, I do not take drugs, nor am I on any medication, but this was unreal.  

“Uh, honey!” I called.

“Yes.” 

“I believe there is an elephant playing in the river ahead of us.”

“A what?” he asked.

“An elephant. And I am pretty sure there is a black Labrador dog on his back.”

My spouse came up from below, looked through the binoculars and casually said, “Yup, that is an elephant with a lab on his back.” (As if we see this sight all the time) 

He took over the helm and I grabbed my camera and started to take pictures. The two animals were frolicking in the water and people were everywhere laughing and enjoying the scene. 

The dog would climb on the elephant’s back, then the elephant would stand up and the dog would leap off into the water. They had this routine down well. 

I started sending texts out to my family and friends and received an e-mail from my son-in-law, Matt.  “Check out the YouTube video. That is Bella and Bubbles.”

Evidently, the two are part of the Myrtle Beach Safari.  

Bubbles was adopted as an ivory orphan in 1983. She grew from 300 pounds to 9,000 pounds and the Safari decided to have a pool built for her. 

In 2007, the contractor who was building the pool, abandoned a little puppy at The Preserve. Before long, the two became close buddies.  

If you get a chance to see the video check the two out playing ball. And if you happen to be traveling down the Intracoastal Waterway and see an elephant and dog in the water, don’t worry. It is just Bella and Bubbles. 

To see a video of the two, Google “Bella and Bubbles.”

New FOI laws are welcome change

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By Bill Rogers 

It’s been a long time coming, but citizens of South Carolina will soon have faster and cheaper access to public documents.

For seven years, the state legislature has for one reason or the other not passed a Freedom of Information reform bill. They did so on the last day of the session this year, and it offers some real improvements in our state’s open government law.

The House, led by Reps. Weston Newton (of Bluffton) and Bill Taylor, pushed hard for the reform and in the end concurred in a last-minute Senate amendment doing away with establishment of an FOIA hearing officer. But the good of the law far outweighs the loss of easier enforcement.

Perhaps the most meaningful part of the reform deals with response time. The new law changes the amount of time an agency has to respond from 15 days to 10 days. That’s a pretty good compromise. Note that Georgia requires a three-day response, but they have exemptions.

The law also sets up a specific time for an FOI request to be fulfilled. In the past, a few agencies abused the law by dragging out their response for months. Now they have 30 days in most cases.

The law also limits how much an agency can charge for documents. In the past, some charged outrageous amounts to discourage release. Now, they can charge no more than the prevailing commercial rate for producing copies. Agencies may also require up to a 25-percent deposit before beginning a search.

The law encourages electronic transmission of public records and says copy charges may not be made for electronic records. But the agency is not required to create an electronic version when it does not exist.

As to police dashcams, the law specifies that any recording involving an incident involving death, injury, property damage or the use of deadly force must be released. However, it allows police to go before a circuit court judge to argue that withholding the recording is more important than the public interest in disclosure.

Filing an FOI suit has been a slow process, often dragging on for a year or more. The new law requires an initial circuit court hearing be set within 10 days of service of legal papers on the parties involved.

The law augments the criminal violation provision and sets up a civil fine of $500 for arbitrary and capricious violations of the law.

To deal with improper requests, the law allows a public body to request a hearing on requests that are unduly burdensome, overly broad, vague or repetitive.

The law takes effect upon the signature of Gov. Henry McMaster, who supported many of these changes when he worked on the Ethics Reform Study Committee several years ago.

With the removal of the hearing officer, enforcement of the law remains problematic.  

But we’ve taken a big step for more transparency in our state.

Bill Rogers is executive director of the S.C. Press Association, an advocate for open government.

Bridge tender faces busy days ahead

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By Lee Scott

You may not be aware of the green house sitting above you as you drive over the Wood’s Memorial Bridge.  

In that office sits Natasha, one of our bridge tenders. We drivers below are oblivious of her most of the time; only vaguely aware that someone must open that bridge.  

However, for Natasha, spring is an especially busy season as the snowbird migration has begun. 

Beaufort is a great stopover for boat owners as they travel up the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. They can buy provisions, visit our town and then spend the night at anchor or at the marina. 

But in the morning, about 8:30 or so, the boats start to stir and the boat tender’s VHF radio starts to crackle.

“Lady’s Island Swing Bridge, Lady’s Island Swing Bridge, sailboat approaching from the south requesting an opening.” 

Now you might ask, “Why not the Wood’s Bridge?” 

Well, in the nautical world, our bridge is identified as the Lady’s Island Swing Bridge.  

The bridge tender will acknowledge the boater and provide them the time she will open. She will also ask the name of the boat and the hailing port. Evidently, they keep a log of the boats that go through, along with the name of the boat’s hailing port.  

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to Natasha. She is one of those friendly people with a smile in her voice. It must be a job requisite because I have found it in numerous other bridge tenders I have encountered through the years. She gave me insight to her job, but the most important to us on land is the times of the openings and closings.

Up in the green house, a boat will call her.  

At the scheduled time, Natasha she will turn on the traffic signals, set the alarms, lower the gates and open the bridge. She records the boats and when they are all clear, will close the bridge again. Most boaters will say something like, “Thanks for the opening.” and the bridge tender will respond. “Safe travels, captain.” 

It is a little different with commercial traffic. They can request an opening at any time. So, don’t get mad at Natasha and the other bridge tenders. They are just following the rules. 

As it turns out, these bridges are slowly going away. They are being replaced with 65-foot high bridges to accommodate auto traffic and allow boats to go under without disrupting a whole community. 

But for the time being, we boaters rely on Natasha and her co-workers to open our bridge when needed. “Thank you, Lady’s Island Swing Bridge.” 

Zoning that is unique to Lady’s Island

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By Jim Hicks

Lady’s Island was the first area of Beaufort County to implement the concept of Community Preservation zoning that was authorized by the 1997 Beaufort County Comprehensive Plan. 

The rational for allowing certain areas that possessed unique qualities such as Lady’s Island, St. Helena and the Dale community to develop zoning that was specific to their community was to protect those unique qualities. 

On Lady’s Island a committee of community representatives was formed and for over a year, on a weekly basis, held public and individual meetings with members of the community, property owners and business representatives.

From the information derived from these meetings and with the guidance of a Beaufort County Planning Department representative, the present day Lady’s Island Community Preservation zoning was developed and approved by County Council in 1999. 

Following are examples of some of the types of zoning that were developed specifically for Lady’s Island with a specific purpose in mind.

• Expanded Home Business (the property along the four-lane portion of Sams Point Road). This zoning was designed to allow the existing homes in this area to be used for low intensity commercial businesses such as business offices and medical practices.  

It has been a success in that many homes which were near the end of their practical life as rental units have been purchased, renovated and today serve commercial purposes.

• Professional Office District (non-residential property adjacent to Lady’s Island Drive). The capability of Lady’s Island Drive and the McTeer Bridge to handle traffic was a concern in 1999 at which time there were only two lanes on each of them. 

In response to this concern, the Professional Office District zoning was designed to limit commercial development to those types businesses such as banks, churches and offices which would generate minimal traffic and traffic interruption. 

Even though today Lady’s Island Drive has been widened to four lanes and another two-lane span added to the bridge, increased traffic volume and congestion continues to be a valid concern on this key corridor. 

• Rural Business District (Property on the right side of Sea Island Parkway coming from Chowan Creek to Hayward Drive (Airport Tire) in the Eustis Community). This zoning was developed with the specific purpose of protecting or legalizing those businesses in the rural area which had existed prior to the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan and with its adoption were made nonconforming. It also established specific types of businesses that could be established in rural areas. 

To date it has worked well, although with the arrival of the new Walmart the city of Beaufort is faced with the question of allowing “commercial creep” along Sea Island Parkway from the store to Chowan Creek.

Each of the above listed types of zoning was developed for Lady’s Island with a specific overall purpose in mind and to date has served the island well. The city of Beaufort does not have zoning which matches the characteristics of each of these unique types of zoning but in most cases does have a similar type of zoning which will hopefully ensure similar long term results in the event of future annexation.

Jim Hicks is the past chairman of the Beaufort County Planning Commission.

Gov. McMaster should veto defective pension bill

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By Tom Davis

A couple weeks ago, the South Carolina General Assembly passed H. 3726, aka the “Public Employees’ Pension-Reform Bill.” This week it was sent to Gov. Henry McMaster for consideration. 

I voted against this bill, and I urge the governor to veto it. Here’s why:

H. 3726 increases taxpayers’ annual contributions to the public employees’ retirement system by 60 percent. Currently, taxpayers contribute $1.36 billion each year; in FY 2023, after the increase is phased in, that annual contribution will swell by $826 million to a total of $2.18 billion.

For some perspective, consider this: In FY 2023, General Fund revenues are projected to be $9.6 billion; of that amount, if the increased taxpayer funding mandated by H. 3726 comes from the General Fund (as proposed in this year’s budget), then $1.22 billion would be taken off the top to fund the pension. Put another way, 12.75 percent of every dollar paid by taxpayers into the General Fund would go toward the public employees’ retirement system.

And to the extent this increased pension funding doesn’t come from the General Fund, the cost is shifted to local governments and other public bodies; any way you cut it, taxpayers end up footing the bill.

By contrast, H. 3726 increases public employees’ annual contributions to their retirement system by only $40 million. Hiking taxpayers’ annual contributions by $826 million and public employees’ by only $40 million is a tough pill to swallow. 

The Heartland Institute recently reviewed the pension plans in the 50 states and in Washington D.C. and concluded that: “It seems that a fair rule of thumb would be that government workers should contribute at least as much toward their retirement as taxpayers. Roughly half of all pension plans require taxpayers to contribute more than employees. This is unfair and needs to be changed. Employees should pay, at minimum, half the cost of their own pensions.” 

H. 3726 has taxpayers paying more than double into the pension than public employees do; nevertheless, I would have swallowed this pill and supported the bill if the underlying cause of the current pension-funding shortfall had been addressed – that is, if H. 3726 had honestly taken on and tackled the thorny issue of defined-contribution vs. defined-benefit plans. Unfortunately for taxpayers, however, the General Assembly punted on this.

South Carolina’s public employees have the right to participate in a defined-benefit plan, which provides for an exact monthly payment for life in retirement based on the tenure of the employee and his or her salary; historically, this has been the norm with public-sector pensions. In recent years, however, 15 other states have shifted at least one of their pension systems to a defined-contribution plan, where a certain amount of money is set aside each year for each employee’s benefit; in other words, the contribution is defined, but the benefit is not.

As noted by the Reason Foundation, this trend tracks what has already happened in the private sector: “Over the past several decades, the private sector has rapidly shifted away from defined-benefit plans toward defined-contribution plan for good reason – traditional plans are expensive, unpredictable and unsustainable in the long run.  Defined-benefit plans put virtually no risk on the workers or retirees, because taxpayers must make up any funding shortfalls.”

I proposed and the Senate approved an amendment to H. 3726 to provide that, once the pension became solvent as a result of the increase in taxpayer funding, all newly hired public employees must be placed into a defined-contribution plan; those who were promised defined benefits would get them, but a sustainable defined-contribution plan would be phased in for new hires.

That amendment, however, was subsequently stripped from the bill, with legislative leaders promising that another bill at some other time would be filed to change the pension-plan structure for new hires, and insisting that, right now, the focus must only be on getting more of the taxpayers’ money into the public employees’ retirement system.

I have heard this before. Almost always – whether it is in regard to roads, healthcare, K-12 education or whatever – the legislative response to a problem is “let’s spend more of the taxpayers’ money now and fix the system flaws later” … and then the reform never happens. 

Let’s not let this happen with the pension bill. McMaster should veto H. 3726 and insist on a bill that both ensures retirees and current public employees receive benefits they were promised and enacts the reforms needed to avoid taxpayer-funded bailouts in the future.

Tom Davis is an SC state senator representing portions of Beaufort and Jasper counties.  

Woods Bridge crash reminds us there’s no traffic plan

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by
Oyster Bluff construction photo

Photo above: Walmart’s coming. So are more F-35’s and D.R.Horton homes — as pictured here last week at Oyster Bluff. But where’s the traffic plan?

By Bill Rauch

Last week a pick-up crashed on the Woods Bridge and knocked the bridge out for a day. As Port Royal Town Manager Van Willis likes to say: “When the Woods Bridge is down it’s chaos over here.”

“Over here” is the Port Royal approach to the McTeer Bridge, the only way on and off the islands when the Woods Bridge is down.

Never mind that the Beaufort mayor’s blog said the city council was “smelling the roses” last week. Good for them. The rest of us were bumper to bumper in the chaos and smelling one another’s exhaust.

Sure, the 1971 classic swing bridge is going to go down once in awhile, and there’s going to be some chaos. That’s not the problem.

The problem is new rooftops are going up fast on Lady’s Island, and there’s no action plan that addresses how the additional 2.4 cars per house will get across the Beaufort River. No plan. Not even a glimmer of a plan. The plan, if you can call it a plan,  is that there will be increasing chaos.

Let’s be clear. This issue is not new. There have been plans. Several.

Forty-six years ago in 1971, for example, the South Carolina Highway Department promulgated the BEAUTS (Beaufort Area Transportation Study) Plan that called for a by-pass — or “ring road,” as they call such things in Europe — all the way around  Beaufort, including a bridge at Brickyard.

But the powers that be at the time found the Brickyard portion of the plan infeasible. Bridges are costly, right?

Then, a generation later back in the late 1990s the Beaufort County Council member who then represented Lady’s Island, Mark Generales, got motivated. Standing up for his constituents, he said the afternoon traffic off the Woods Bridge in the afternoons was “intolerable.” 

The McTeer Bridge, Generales proclaimed, must be four-laned.

Never mind that the South Carolina Department of Traffic’s engineers, the county’s in-house traffic experts, and the Beaufort City Council all expressed their preference for the bridge at Brickyard instead, Councilman Generales had his way and the parallel bridge at McTeer was built only to find that the experts had been correct and that with the extra lanes available on the McTeer Bridge corridor there was no appreciable effect upon the situation at the Woods Bridge.

About that time Generales exited the scene and the city of Beaufort called for $5 million to be put on Beaufort County’s 2007 penny sales tax referendum for studying, engineering and buying right-of-way for a “third Beaufort River crossing,” wherever the experts that the county hired said it should be.

That penny tax measure passed and the county’s traffic consultants got with SCDOT and took another look at the situation. 

What they concluded was, surprise, that the solution to the Carteret Street/Woods Bridge/Sea Island Parkway congestion is to build a bridge at Brickyard and an improved corridor that would connect Sams Point Road to U.S. 21 just west of the Air Station.

Why? Because many of the occupants of the cars who cross the Woods Bridge are residents who live in Northern Beaufort County’s largest bedroom community, Lady’s Island, and who work at Northern Beaufort County’s largest employer, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

These people twice daily, and the million visitors a year to Hunting Island, and others would take the Brickyard Bridge.

Moreover, with more jets on the way the area’s largest employer is getting larger all the time. 

And with more houses being built on Lady’s Island there will be more homes there to accommodate the newcomers.

All they have to do is get there.

By the way, since the current Beaufort City Council has placed its top priority on business development, “traffic counts” are good for business, but traffic is not — which translated means one of government’s key responsibilities to the private sector is to keep the cars moving.

The 2009 study cost $500,000 and Beaufort’s mayor and council — in fact some of the same members who were smelling the roses last week — stood by in silence in 2010 while the other $4.5 million of the penny sales tax money that had been allocated to the third Beaufort River crossing was spent on road improvement projects in Bluffton.

So where does that leave us now? 

When there was resolve to build a bridge, for political reasons it was built in the wrong place. 

And now — irrespective of the pressures that are greater now than then — it appears there is insufficient resolve to put a bridge where for the past 46 years the traffic experts have been saying it should go.

Accordingly, with respect to traffic in Beaufort, it appears today there is nothing ahead except more.  

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

Ummm … what was your name again?

in Contributors/Lee Scott/Voices by

By Lee Scott

One of the most uncomfortable situations for many us is attending an event and not being able to remember the names of the people you see. 

You walk into the room and right away someone greets you by your first name and your mind is a blank.

But there is good news! 

Many people are in the same boat. We find ourselves struggling to come up with a person’s name knowing full well we cannot recall it.  

Fortunately, my spouse and I have our “I don’t know their name routine.” (I know other couples have their own method.) If I am chatting with someone and do not introduce him right away, he will put out his hand and introduce himself. This gives the other person a chance to introduce himself while I stand there innocently playing the “Oh, I thought you two had already met” look on my face.  

To complicate the problem of forgetting people’s names, I have added another twist. I assign names. There are so many men and women who remind me of someone else. My girlfriend Donna looks like Jennifer Gray from the old “Dirty Dancing” movie. 

Joanne, my mail carrier, was Jackie to me for a long time until one day when she corrected me. How embarrassing. 

However, I was lucky when it came to my spouse’s name. The first time I saw him, years ago, he was in a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner with a young blonde on his arm. I thought he looked like “Bond. James Bond.” Fortunately, his name is James and the young blonde is long gone.

According to medical websites, some doctors believe we do not remember names because we are so busy during the introduction observing the person’s features, body language and other characteristics that we dismiss the name part. Maybe that is why I am so quick to assign a name. I am too distracted focusing on who they look like and miss hearing their actual name. 

But my favorite assigned name was Alice, whose real name was Maureen. She was a waitress at a restaurant we frequented for many years in Annapolis. She went along with her new name, although it would confuse other customers. Maureen was always “Alice” to us and would serve my spouse a mean martini saying “Bond, James Bond. Shaken, not stirred.”   

Sometimes, you can have fun forgetting someone’s name. 

Nonprofits should be open to scrutiny

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By Jay Bender 

Where does your tax money go?   

In most instances it supports direct government activities such as schools, police, housing, public health and the like. But in many instances your tax money is transferred to nonprofit corporations that have convinced government leaders that they perform a service worthy of public support.  

Museums, festivals, parks and tourism promoters are common nonprofit recipients of public funds. 

There is a bill, H.3931, pending in the SC House of Representatives, that would exempt nonprofit organizations getting public funds from the Freedom of Information Act. 

The bill is being promoted as a way to make nonprofits accountable to the governments that provide funding by requiring filing of general statements about how your money is being spent. 

If you believe that nonsense, I have some beachfront property in Walhalla for sale. In too many instances, those doling out your money are benefiting from the use of those funds to hire their relatives or worse.  

If this bill passes, we will never know. 

Some legislators have been told nonprofits are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and this bill will add “transparency.”  Nonprofits receiving or spending your money are already subject to the open government law, and you are entitled to see their records. All you have to do is ask. 

In 1974 the General Assembly enacted the Freedom of Information Act, based on a finding that it was vital in a democratic society that public business be conducted in an open and public manner. 

The Supreme Court of South Carolina has repeatedly ruled that this law exists to prevent secret government activity. 

One mechanism used to hide government activity has been through the use of nonprofit corporations. 

The University of South Carolina for years hid a presidential slush fund behind a nonprofit foundation. When the public and press demanded an accounting of the foundation’s activities through Freedom of Information Act requests, the foundation refused to provide access, saying the law did not apply to it because it was a nonprofit corporation.

The S.C. Supreme Court said otherwise. The court looked to the definition in the law of those organizations to which the law applied. These organizations are identified in the law as “public bodies.”  

If an entity is a public body it is required to disclose certain records and conduct its meetings in a prescribed manner. 

A “public body” includes “any organization, corporation, or agency supported in whole or in part by public funds or expending public funds.”  

The USC Foundation met this definition, and, as a consequence, was required to account for how it spent its money. When exposed to public scrutiny many of the expenditures, such as gifts to elected officials and lavish speaking fees, were questioned and protested. 

Is there value in knowing how a nonprofit organization that gets tax money spends that money? Most of us think so. If you know where the money is going, you have grounds to tell your representatives in government that you approve or disapprove of the way your money is being spent. 

We should be past the point where we will accept an assurance such as, “Trust me. Great things are being done with your money.” 

There is too much evidence to the contrary that trust is not enough. In Richland County alone we’ve had a recreation commission paying inflated salaries to relatives who probably shouldn’t have been on the payroll in the first place. We’ve had the records of a high school booster club requested by the Attorney General who is investigating charges that much of the money is not accounted for. 

Two festival organizers are being questioned about what they have done with the public money they have received to conduct festivals that seem not to have happened. 

I suspect certain nonprofit organizations across the state would be exposed to scorn or prosecution if their activities were subjected to public scrutiny. There are allegations in several parts of the state that tax money is being laundered by nonprofit corporations to fund political contributions.  The only thing transparent about H.3931 is the desire of organizations supported by or spending your money to do it in secret. This bill should be defeated. If not, your tax dollars will go down a rabbit hole never to be heard from again.  

Tell your House member you want true accountability and defeat the bill. 

Jay Bender is a retired media law professor and an attorney for the S.C. Press Association.

Business watchdog faults Beaufort on crime

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By Bill Rauch

It is always a pleasure to hear from readers, especially when they get what you’re writing about and add to it a new dimension.

That happened last week.

After reading my recent column about the proposed Jasper County wind farm and its possible effects upon upcoming economic development efforts in Beaufort County a reader sent me the Palmetto Promise Institute’s April 2017 South Carolina Enterprise-friendly Cities Report, a first-of-its-kind analysis that ranks the state’s 50 most populous municipalities from the point of view of their attractiveness as a place to start or relocate a business.

The report is an eye-opener.

It finds Bluffton to be the state’s most enterprise-friendly city. Hilton Head is No. 7, right between Greenville and Spartanburg, and Port Royal comes in a respectable 14th behind Lexington.  

Where’s Beaufort? Way back in the pack at No. 33.

Yes, Southern Living named Beaufort “The South’s Best Small Town for 2017.” Their reasoning was full of squish like “enchantment” and “intoxicating” and “can’t turn a corner without swooning.” 

Moreover, the great contemporary Southern writer, Cassandra King, who wrote the Southern Living piece reminds her readers that love, home and family — all abundant in Beaufort — are what matter most.

The Palmetto Promise Institute is not convinced. These guys are all business. They looked at the numbers. And one in particular is not at all enchanting. 

Of South Carolina’s 50 most populous cities, according to the report, Beaufort ranks third in “per-capita violent crime.” 

If 100 is a perfect score, Beaufort got a dismal 9.51 in this category and that way-worse-than-failing grade dragged Beaufort’s “Community Allure” and overall scores way down.

In all the areas Beaufort was graded as a business-friendly town, “per-capita violent crime” was by far its worst.

Regular readers of this column will recognize this issue. Beaufort now has the same number of sworn police officers it had in 2007, but they are being asked to respond to three times the dispatch call volume they were a decade ago. 

That means the officers on duty have no time to engage in what policing experts call “community policing,” which is when police officers get out of their cruisers and proactively talk to people and get to know who’s who and what’s up. In fact, the Beaufort PD now isn’t even getting to some of their dispatch calls, police brass who are familiar with the particulars say. They are instead calling on Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies to cover for them, especially on Lady’s Island.

Beaufort was the drug-dealing capital of Beaufort County in the mid-1990’s when Mayor David Taub and City Manager Gary Cannon insisted that enough officers be hired so that a community policing program could be instituted under Chief Bill Neill. Over the next few years the drug-dealers — and the violent crime that follows them — were run out of Beaufort. But in the past half dozen years, however, both have returned.

Southern Living may not know that yet, but the bean counters at The Palmetto Promise Institute do.

If, as the City Council says, making the city attractive to new businesses is high on its priorities list, then it’s time to stop spending the city’s tax dollars on real estate and new programs, and time instead to start hiring police officers.

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.

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