By Betsy Finklea
The dirt hauling issue was heard by Judge Paul Burch on Monday morning in non-jury court at the Dillon County Courthouse.
County Attorney Dan Shine said that a declaratory judgment action was brought by Dillon County.
The action is in regards to the dirt hauling issue, an issue that the same judge had ruled on in 1992. A counterclaim was filed by Attorney Charles Curry which was also addressed in Monday’s hearing. (See Tuesday, May 18th issue or www.thedillonherald.com for details.)
Shine said the parties had reached an agreement and agreed to submit a consent order and that they had negotiated on the issues.
Curry said that in 1992 when the judge issued his order that it dealt primarily with the performance of work using county employees on private property.
Curry said there were numerous occasions where his clients believe that this has been violated.
He said that not only did they believe the county had violated the order of the court, but that Dillon County Council members had taken it upon themselves to give instructions to county employees. He asked for an injunction against county council and that they be ordered to comply with state law.
Curry asked that his mandamus request be dismissed and that they would not pursue it.
In the consent order, Curry said the county would agree that it is in violation of contempt of court. Curry said that he would like some language included that it would be some type of criminal contempt if another violation occurs. The county council would agree to cease intervening with county employees and that if they wanted something done, it would have to go through the county administrator. He also asked for a ruling on the county driveway policy and on the county maintaining “abandoned” cemeteries where people continue to still be buried.
Shine said that there may have been some confusion in how the county council interpreted a part of the order regarding public health and safety and emergencies and that they would like clarification on this.
Judge Burch said they had met in chambers and discussed this in length.
He said that the county’s E-911 Roadways policy passed in 2004 does violate his previous order and is terminated. He said if a driveway is in that type of condition, an owner should be willing to sign over the right-of-way to get the problem addressed and to protect local government.
He said if property owners needed this then they would be willing to sign on the dotted line.
Burch said he hoped this policy was not passed with the intent to circumvent his previous order.
Burch then went on to define an emergency or disaster. He said if the President of the United States declares a disaster or the Governor of S.C. declares a disaster then that is fine. He said the county council may declare a disaster and that is fine.
“I’m a firm believer in local government running their affairs, but they have to do it by the letter of the law,” Burch said.
Burch said as far as an emergency, for example, if law enforcement or an incident commander is at a fire and they need county equipment brought in to address it, then they could do that with no problem.
On the other hand if someone says that something “might be” an emergency, he was not going to have that.
Burch said a cemetery where someone has not been buried in the last 10 years is a good measure of an abandoned cemetery.
Burch said maintaining numerous cemeteries seems very foolish from a taxpayer’s perspective, but there is always an exception, such as a cemetery with historical significance.
Burch said he had known the county administrator for a long time and knew his dad, and he trusted him to run the county the way it should be run, to follow the law, and to follow the decisions of council if they stay in the realm o f the law.
Burch said if he gets any affidavit from any county employee stating that they have been approached by a county councilman and directed to do something involving county business, then somebody is going to jail.
“There’s no sense in that,” Burch said. Further, there will be no retribution towards that county employee or citizen that presents this kind of evidence.
Burch said this was the second time that he has had to come to Dillon County and had to step into county affairs because the county council is doing political favors and going beyond the law.
Burch said his previous order was never appealed, and it stands. “That is law and I expect it to be abided by.”
He said the county council needs to be really careful because if whatever is going on is an intentional violation or a circumvention of his order, “all I can say is beware.”
Burch said he didn’t want to threaten anyone, but he was on county council for over five years in his county, and he knows what needs to be done and what shouldn’t be done.
He again warned that he better not receive any affidavits.
He asked Curry to draw up the order. Part of the order will be an injunction against council directing county employees.
He told Shine and Administrator David Mobley to give the council “fair warning.” He said he understood political pressure, but they did not want to get caught up in a court order.
He also commended the citizens in attendance for showing up and for showing an interest in their county.
By Betsy Finklea