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Letter to the Editor: David Chinnis

Dorchester County Councilman David Chinnis writes Summerville Patch, defending the county regarding vehicle use.

I read with interest the statements made by and since, in my opinion, Mr. Goodman’s accusations cast the entire Council in a negative light I feel compelled to respond. While it may not be apparent to all, Jason Ward and/or his staff keep all County Council members informed of issues occurring at the County level, especially ones that involve constituents, our own and those of other districts.

I received a copy of an email response to Mr. Goodman’s FOIA request noting the estimated amount of time and personnel it would take to gather the information requested by Mr. Goodman and the cost to the County and thus the taxpayer, to research six years of records. I also received a copy of an email with Mr. Goodman’s refusal to pay for those employees time for his personal request. I can only guess that Mr. Goodman believed that the County (read as every County Taxpayer) should foot the cost for his specific request. In the interim, the staff determined that it would be possible for Mr. Goodman to come to the St.George County Offices and with a staff member research the records himself without the additional cost involved. Mr. Goodman was offered this option and refused stating he was ill. He was then offered the option to choose another date and to my knowledge has yet to follow up. During this time in which County Staff was working to meet his information request, Mr. Goodman asked, for a reason unknown to me, a written release from the County to allow him to look at these documents – yes, the same documents County Staff offered openly to allow himto look through. If following State ordinances regarding acceptable charges and then determining a method to avoid those charges is a “run-around” as Mr.Goodman stated, I am uncertain of the response required. I believe the priority of staff was properly placed and the highest best use of their time was to the wholeof the citizens of Dorchester County during the budget season, which clearly is also the campaign season.

On to a more specific issue of the single vehicle in the entire County Fleet. Mr.Goodman clearly states “for a purpose which Jason Ward and the County Staffdid not know about”, a statement which upon my reading of a response from Jason to Mr. Goodman is patently false, in my opinion. In the email I received on May 14 regarding this issue I quote the following:

According to Sheriff Knight, the vehicle in question was a spare vehicle to be used when other vehicles were being serviced. Between the time we received the list of vehicles to be dead lined, and the replacements being received, the Sheriff’s Office needed to keep the vehicle in service as a spare.  The Sheriff was aware of the location and use of the vehicle.The Sheriff’s Office contacted the Budget and Finance Office and stated that the vehicle needed to be kept in service, but it was not removed from the dead linelist, and placed back on the tagged assets list, and that is why it was not on the list of home garaged vehicles that Mr. Goodman received from the County.  This was simply a clerical error.

A clerical error.

Sheriff's need for the vehicle was reasonably clear and the mistake made by not removing the vehicle is clearly stated.

On the issue of a complaint against the Magistrate’s office, the County acted within the limits of the authority it has over that Agency. I am personally pleased that the Magistrate’s Courts independence if free from coercion from local government. I take personal offense to the implication that County Council ignores these issues. We certainly do not, nor, in my opinion does County Administrator Ward.

After Mr. Goodman’s comments at a St. George Council meeting, Mr. Ward specifically looked into the issues presented and responded appropriately to speculation from Mr. Goodman that the County had no controls on it's fleet or the fuel usage of the same, noting specifically that some County employees were separated from service due to issues regarding improper use of vehicles and orfuel cards. The County Council’s responsibility is to act as Board of Directors for this County and, as with BoD's in the private sector, do not know nor involve themselves in every tiny action that occurs or does not occur. We are and should be a policy body for this County who require the Administrator as Plant Manager to ensure that County Services reach County residents in an appropriate manner and thatbudgets are met to satisfy the stockholders (taxpayers)! As we all fall short of the Glory of God, mistakes sometimes occur, our response to correct those mistakes should be the important factor.

I appreciate Mr.Goodman presenting the mistake to the County for correction. I do not appreciate the implication that the County had some nefarious plan for a single car whose time had not yet come. If the Sheriff needed the vehicle to aid in the performance of his duties to Public Safety, I think most would not begrudge that mistake unless using that mistake served other much more political purposes.

When presented issues of concern I follow up on each one and I believe that my fellow Councilmen do as well. We cannot always resolve every issue to our constituent’s satisfaction, but we certainly try within the bounds of our authority. Unfortunately in this instant gratification society we cannot be everywhere at once, but we certainly are appreciative of the timely information we receive fromthe County Staff when issues arise. 

If you’ve managed to read this long, I have one final request: do not believe
everything you read! During this campaign season I have personally seen platforms that promise actions and items that contain no substance. The soundbites look good but ask them HOW they plan to accomplish those promises! The “HOW” is far more important than the empty words, grandiose promisesbeing made to obtain your vote. Remember these words from our second President John Adams:

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, theycannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

David Chinnis

Dorchester County Council District 2

reg May 18, 2012 at 07:54 PM
FOIA requests commonly offer estimates of the time/labor/printing costs it would take to complete that request. That's a professional formality. Also, when it comes to such public records of expenses covered by public taxes, the public isn't supposed to be charged (there could be exceptions when it exceeds particular time required to complete the request). Thus, I don't think county council can complain about his FOIA request "noting the estimated amount of time and personnel it would take to gather the information requested." It was well within Goodman's rights to do so, and he made his request well within the walls of professional formality.
G. Wright May 18, 2012 at 08:40 PM
From the SC Press Association: How much can a public body charge me for providing the records? A public body may charge only the actual cost of gathering and copying records in response to your request. Records must be furnished at the lowest possible cost and in a convenient and practical form. The agency may require a deposit. A reasonable cost is 10 to 25-cents a page. If you are quoted more than that, ask for a detailed explanation of the charges and challenge excessive costs with the agency head or governing body.
David Chinnis May 18, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Reg, I'm not certain exactly where you are getting your information, but SC allows (Chapter 4, Title 3 - 30-4-30 (b) the collections of fees for the cost of the search and copies. In this case 6 years of records which were not compiled in the manner requested. Point in fact there is no one complaining about the request, quite the opposite - every effort was made to fulfill the request. Further the point should be made that County personnel offered at no cost an opportunity to view the records in St. George after a cost estimate was provided and rejected.
reg May 18, 2012 at 09:01 PM
I get that information from many sources, even directly from the county, Mr. Chinnis. Many county offices (the ones I've communicated with) have such notation on their formal FOIA request forms. "The FOIA permits agencies to waive fees if disclosure of the record(s) is in the public interest because it: (a) is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and (b) is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.”
SDR May 19, 2012 at 08:21 PM
A politician says don't believe everything you read. That's rich. Next he'll tell us not to believe everything the other guy says.

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