By Paul Gable
Horry County Government threw more gasoline on the fire it has created with the Horry County Treasurer’s Office with a new filing in court Friday on the Treasurer lawsuit filed by Angie Jones.
The new filing is an amended answer and amended counterclaims associated with the original lawsuit against Horry County Government and Administrator Chris Eldridge, which was filed in November 2017.
One of the new complaints by Horry County is that Jones has refused to provide detailed information about her budget request for the next fiscal year to the Horry County Assistant Administrator Justin Powell.
The counterclaim states, “The Horry County budgeting process is handled by Horry County Council and administered by the Horry County Administrator.”
An email from Jones to Powell states, “I will deal directly with council in regards to my budget needs …”
From the above two quotes, it would appear that Jones is adhering to the provisions in state law. She is a countywide elected official elected by the people to run the Treasurer’s Office. The administrator is appointed by Horry County Council to administrate policies decided by vote of council for the departments that council has control over.
A South Carolina Attorney General’s Opinion dated October 26, 2007 states, “With reference to budgetary matters, while it’s true that the council exercises totally the budgetary authority of a county and can decrease, increase, or otherwise alter appropriations for county offices, nevertheless, it cannot so decrease the appropriations of an elected official’s office so as to prevent the proper functioning thereof.”
An Attorney General’s Opinion dated April 29, 2011 states, “County councils have broad authority with regard to the operations and functions of county government. They also possess broad authority with regard to budgetary decisions. However, a county cannot reduce the funding of an elected official’s office to the extent that it precludes the proper functioning of that office nor do they have the authority to employ or discharge personnel under the direction of county elected officials.”
There appears to be a distinction between county offices over which county council has authority and offices administered by independently elected county officials. Nowhere does it appear council has the authority to demand an elected official “report” to an administrator, especially one already being sued by Jones for apparently overstepping authority with regard to state law.
Jones clearly offered to work with council directly with regard to her budget request, which seems to be the appropriate course of action.
The amended filing also states that Jones has not adhered to the County Procurement Code, apparently with respect to a change in lockbox procedures for the Treasurer’s Office.
Personally, I would like to know how closely the county’s Procurement Code and budgeting process was followed with respect to the sudden, recent purchase of 3,729 acres of “swamp land” for nearly $12 million of public money.
From publicly available information, that purchase seems to have come up and be acted on quite quickly and with most discussion about the details conducted out of the public eye in executive session.
The county would like Jones to drop her lawsuit. However, from the filings associated with the suit and what appear to be more personal attacks on Jones than responses to her allegations, this matter seems headed for decision in a court of law.