By Paul Gable
The response filed by Horry County Government December 14, 2017, to a lawsuit filed by Horry County Treasurer Angie Jones last month, appears to take the issues in the case out of the purely legal realm.
At some level within the government, this case certainly seems to be more personal than merely a disagreement over funding for the Treasurer’s Office.
The following extracts from the county’s response provide some insight:
Para. 5 First Defense – “… legal issues manufactured by Jones are not genuine legal issues, but issues solely caused by Jones’s failure to properly manage the Office of the Treasurer and properly understand South Carolina State law regarding the obligations and responsibilities of county treasurers in South Carolina as well as the functioning of county government.”
Para. 8 First Defense – “… Jones has consistently attempted to manipulate, usurp and contravene the budgeting powers and process of Horry County, to include the bringing of this legal action and casting constant blame on others including the prior Treasurer, for the sole purpose of misleading the public, justifying the employment of friends and political supporters and diverting attention away from her mismanagement of the Treasurer’s Office.”
Para. 9 First Defense – “If Jones has any alleged “issues” with regard to staffing and competently and efficiently performing her duties as the Horry County Treasurer, such issues are solely as a result of her mismanagement of her offices and her own decisions, including her decisions to drive out and remove and replace competent long-term employees with friends and political supporters lacking in relevant experience.”
In effect, the county response to the Jones complaint is that Jones is incompetent, mismanaging the Treasurer’s Office and rewarding her friends and political supporters with jobs to the detriment of the public good. It will be interesting to see the county attempt to prove these allegations at trial.
The county’s answer to Jones’ lawsuit also goes into an explanation of how a special position was created for Jones and funded by the county (although not specifically included in the FY 2016-17 budget). The special position was created “for the purpose of educating her (Jones) as to the budget and the myriad duties and responsibilities of the County Treasurer in order to provide a smooth transition when she took office.”
The county further claims they terminated Jones’ temporary employment because she “refused to engage in the multiple opportunities offered by the county.”
Did anyone in county government consider that, prior to her election to office, Jones worked in the Treasurer’s Office for 15 years, 11 years as Deputy Treasurer responsible for acting for the Treasurer in his absence? If only our county council members had such experience before being elected to office.
Additionally, the county alleges Jones has exceeded the budget for the Treasurer’s Office and should be held personally responsible for paying back to the county any budget deficit as well as attorney’s fees for defending the lawsuit.
The last is an interesting claim considering we are only half way through a fiscal year and it is impossible to determine, at this point, whether the Treasurer’s Office will finish the fiscal year with a budget deficit.
It is entirely possible the Treasurer’s Office will generate more fees than estimated resulting in a budget surplus at the end of the year. If the county wants to charge Jones for a budget deficit is it willing to give to her any budget surplus?
The county made the interesting choice of having Henrietta Golding of the McNair Law Firm Myrtle Beach office defend it in this lawsuit against the county treasurer.
Francenia Heizer of the McNair Law Firm Columbia office has acted as the Horry County Government and Horry County Schools bond attorney for as long as I can remember.
The county treasurer must approve debt instruments, such as bonds, for both agencies before they can be issued.
At exactly what point does conflict of interest come in when an attorney from one office of a law firm works closely with the county treasurer in one instance while another attorney from a different office, but of the same law firm, represents the county in litigation against the treasurer in another?
This entire legal entanglement, and in essence county government finger pointing, results from an original request by Jones to the county for an additional one person to her staff for the current fiscal year.
It certainly appears to have motivations far beyond that simple request.
Link to the Talking Politics show with Angie Jones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUWTA4KE-7A