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Fort Lawn council meeting is ‘interesting’

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Councilman Russell leaves closed door session, returns alone to open forum

Denyse Clark
Landmark News Services
FORT LAWN – The Tuesday, Oct. 1, meeting of Fort Lawn Town Council meeting was “interesting” to say the least.
Though no reason was given, Councilman Scott Russell – appearing very agitated – removed himself from a closed-door session and two council members expressed concerns about spending money to make enhancements in and around town hall.
At this meeting, accountant Howard Nichols reviewed the town's annual audit and commended the council for a new operations manual and for “keeping up” its sewer accounts.
“The main thing is it's (the audit) an unqualified opinion which is what you want,” Nichols said.  “Y'all keep up well on the sewer funds. The sewer (account) everybody knows is rough.”
The town has about 10 more years to pay on a sewer loan, Nichols said.
“That $18,000 keeps recurring and you're paying it down quickly,” he told the council.
At the conclusion of his presentation, Howard commended town clerk Lisa Revels.
“Lisa's record keeping is excellent,” he said.
Next on the agenda, Russell initiated a discussion about the town hall parking lot.
“We've been talking about this for a year or so,” he said. “Over the course of years, we've added gravel to fill in holes, but I'm asking now if it's possible to get the parking lot paved.”
Councilman Al Bellavance asked a question about the town's liability. He said the parking lot is primarily used as an overflow lot for Fort Lawn Community Center.
“We're paving it based on the community center being a tourist attraction, but who's responsible if there's an accident in the parking lot?” he asked.
Town attorney Brian Grier said the town would only be liable if the actual parking lot construction was not done properly.
For example, Grier said if someone trips on an poorly installed curb or parking block in the lot, the town would be responsible.
However, if someone backs into another car while parked there, the town would not be responsible.
Fort Lawn Mayor John Rumford said about $23,000 is available from hospitality tax funds for the parking lot.
“Is there anything more important that we can use that money for now other than paving the parking lot?” councilman Thomas Reddick asked.
Rumford said, “No,” then made a motion to prepare, publish and solicit bids for paving the parking lot. Russell seconded this motion. The vote was unanimous in favor.
Council then voted unanimously to enter an executive session.
Moments later, Russell returned to council chambers by himself, seemingly agitated. Russell announced that he had excused himself from the closed-door meeting.
A short time later, the full council returned to open session. The mayor announced no action was taken and the group discussed two final agenda items.
Rumford made a motion for the town to cooperate with the Municipal Association of S.C. and pay a consultant $250 to develop a draft of a business license ordinance.
Russell seconded the motion and the vote was unanimous.
Rumford then announced that the town has an opportunity to buy furniture for $300 – a desk, a chair and a hutch – for the municipal clerk of court's office.
“Is this something we can do without at this time?” Russell asked.
The mayor answered, “We always can do without.”
Then he made the motion to purchase the furniture. Bellavance seconded this motion. The vote was 4 to 1, with Russell casting the opposing vote.
The Fort Lawn Town Council meets 7 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at town hall.