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GREAT FALLS – The March 26 purchase of two Polaris Ranger ATVs by the town of Great Falls has been a topic of conversation between members of the Great Falls Town Council and the public.
Whether the $24,300 purchase was authorized was discussed during the April 15 Great Falls Town Council meeting.
Councilman Robin Dixon was listed on the agenda to discuss purchasing procedures as they relate to town ordinances, council and committee.
“Was it an authorized purchase?,” Dixon asked Town Attorney Brian Grier.
“No,” Grier said.
Grier said he did not know about the ATV purchases until after they were bought.
“I feel like I’m beating a dead horse since it has already been in the paper,” Dixon said. “But there is a lot of misunderstanding on council when it comes to procurement, especially the Tahoes and ATVs.
“My understanding is anything over $10,000 requires council approval. If you can pass a budget and department heads can buy anything they want, why would it be included about the $10,000 approval by council?
“I think they were illegal purchases,” he added.
Grier said the purchases should have gone before council. Mayor Don Camp said they were when council approved the budget.
“It sounds like an unauthorized purchase,” Councilman Zack Williams said.
Grier said council included capital expenditures in the budget, but if the money was spent, it should have been approved by council.
“That’s the way we’ve done it in the past since it was not a budgeted item,” Grier said.
Dixon asked if members of council should have to adhere to the same ordinances citizens do.
“If a member breaks an ordinance, should they not be summoned to appear in court like anyone else who breaks the law?” Dixon said.
Dixon said Scott Slatton, legislative and public policy advocate at the Municipal Association of South Carolina, told him that any person who breaks an ordinance is subject to the same rules.
“I think it’s hypocritical,” Dixon said. “If you have anyone in office who is going to try to implement rules, then he should be subject to the same rules.”
Williams asked Grier if Camp should be held responsible and fined for the purchases.
“The question is ‘Who awarded the bids?’” Councilman Glenn Smith said.
Town ordinance says council should determine the award for a contract for more than $10,000 to the low responsible bidder after receiving the recommendation of the mayor.
Grier said after three bids were obtained by the mayor and town clerk, council should have decided which bid to go with.
“That’s all I’m after. The procurement policy is there and we’re not going by it,” Dixon said.
Dixon asked who would be considered responsible for the unauthorized purchase of the ATVs – the person who authorized the purchase, the people who signed the checks or the person who approved and transferred the money.
Grier said it will be up to the S.C. Law Enforcement Division to make the determination.
“Is that where we need to go to first?” Williams said.
If it is determined that a crime has been committed the case would be turned over to outside agency, Grier said.
“As far as what’s next, I don’t think we know at this point,” Williams said later. “It’s uncharted waters. I understand what Robin said, if someone else from the town did it, we’d pursue it. But I believe in grace and sometimes people make mistakes.”
Williams said he thinks the ATVs are something the town needs but doesn’t think the purchases were gone about the right way, according to the town’s procurement policy.
“I think the mayor honestly thought he was doing the right thing, but he just didn’t go about it the right way. Let this be a good lesson on forgiveness. We can make mistakes even when we have the best intentions at heart. I believe in grace and forgiveness,” Williams said.
Williams said he has no plans to push the issue.
“My goal is not to take anyone down. My goal is to make sure things are done properly. Ordinances have been put into place for a reason and all town officials need to go by them,” Williams said.
He referred to Proverbs 31:8-9 where the Bible says Christians should speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.
“As a Bible-believing Christian, I’ve got to stand up for the people of Great Falls who have no way of speaking. We’ve got to do what’s right for the people and we’ve got to do what we can to give the people a voice and make the town better. We need to work together. My hope is that everybody realizes that everybody has to go by the rules,” Williams said.
Dixon said he doesn’t want to see anyone go to jail, get in trouble or lose any money.
“There are some of us on council trying to run the town right,” Dixon added. “I just basically want the town to be run by the council and committees like it should be.”
He said he is undecided if he will seek legal action on the unauthorized purchases.
“I feel obligated. I don’t plan on seeking re-election so people can’t say it’s politically motivated. I feel I will probably seek legal action but I’m undecided,” Dixon said.
Grier said Chester County Sheriff’s Office or SLED could handle the investigation but the county agency may feel too close and uncomfortable getting involved. He said any member of council can request an investigation.
“It’s up to them,” Grier said.
The attorney also said a citizen can request an investigation.
“It’s taxpayer money,” Grier added.
The town bought a $12,300 Polaris Ranger for wastewater employees to use while checking sewer lines. A second Polaris Ranger was bought for $12,000 for the police department so officers can patrol the old railroad tracks and walking trails. Police can also use the four-wheeler during the Flopeye Fish Festival, the Great Falls Rescue Squad Rodeo and bike rallies, Camp said.
Camp called the morning after the meeting to say the ATV purchases could have been declared an emergency situation.
He referred to Section 39-4, No. 9 in the town’s procurement policy relating to exceptions to competitive bidding.
The ordinance says competitive bidding is not required for procurements in emergency situations declared by the mayor to involve a threat to public health, safety or welfare.
“I could have declared it a threat to public health, safety or welfare,” Camp said.