An exchange regarding county’s handling of the Penny Tax

Richland County Council’s Paul Livingston stepped out into the line of fire today with an unabashed defense of the county’s doings with an op-ed piece headlined, “Facts show Richland penny tax is a success.”

If I’d been standing near him at the moment the piece hit the Web, I’d have moved away quickly. (But I’d have been cool about it, acting like I’d suddenly remembered something I need to run home for or something. Wouldn’t want to look cowardly or anything.)

An excerpt:

livingston3

Paul Livingston

What began as a welcome audit of the program has morphed into an effort to undermine one of the best hopes Richland County has of reaching its full economic potential while providing a consistent, quality transit and transportation network that enhances the quality of life for all citizens.

I have not seen any evidence to support claims of illegal activity and corruption on the county’s part. Integrity is extremely important to me, and I take it personally when someone attacks my integrity.

County Council has only followed the will of the people. We haven’t done anything different than what voters requested and approved….

The fact is that a solid foundation has been laid to deliver on the promise of a modern bus system and better roads, bikeways, sidewalks and other special projects that will improve transportation.

The fact is that the COMET, crippled by a 45 percent reduction in service a few years ago, is now flourishing: It has restored lost service, introduced new routes, improved bus stops, adopted new technology to enhance riders’ experience, and more. Ridership has increased 150 percent.

And our roads and sidewalks are being fixed. Already, 76 roads have been paved or resurfaced, and other dirt road paving and resurfacing projects are underway….

But go read the whole thing at thestate.com.

An alert reader has pointed me to a tough rejoinder posted by Susan Quinn, a Facebook friend of mine (and, a quarter-century back, a student of mine that one semester that I taught a newswriting course at USC).

Here’s what Susan said:

Susan Quinn

Susan Quinn

While Mr. Livingston basks in the glow of a few dozen county road getting their potholes patched thanks to the Penny Transportation Tax, let’s recap some of the facts he evidently doesn’t wish to deal with.
FACT 1: The Penny Tax Development Team LLC has never obtained the required city or county business licenses and could be required to repay fees and possibly fines.
FACT 2: Millions of taxpayer dollars have been filtered to numerous outside PR firms when the County itself has a full-service PR department. I’m referring to Banco Bannister and Campbell Consulting (which, BTW, provided no documentation for work performed). I’m also referring to other businesses who have been awarded (using the phrase, “allowed to steal” has such a negative connotation) thousands of taxpayer dollars for alleged PR services (including one business …Strategic Business and Politics, LLC…which received $169,687 and which has its office in a UPS Store…sound fishy?)
FACT 3: The Penny Tax Development Team LLC has submitted exorbitant monthly invoices for items such as cars, cell phones, computers, internet services, printer paper and gourmet coffee. They’ve even submitted invoices for pest control services! And those pest control services did nothing to control the pests robbing us taxpayers! These expenses totaled over $35,000 FOR ONE MONTH, according to information obtained under a Freedom of Information request. And these are just some of the expenses the county will actually admit to!
FACT 4: Let’s not forget the $300,000 deals to people paid who had no training to do the work they were hired for, like the former City Councilman attorney who needed training on doing title searches and the former USC cheerleader turned real estate agent.
FACT 5: And let’s also recall the hundreds of thousands of dollars filtered to select individuals through the “Mentor-Protégé” program…a phony program that never even existed!
These are just a few facts that have come to the surface in the cesspool that is Richland County government. There are bound to be more as our county leaders get away with their multi-million (billion?) dollar blatant fleecing of us tax payers.

Perhaps you’d like to weigh in as well…

16 thoughts on “An exchange regarding county’s handling of the Penny Tax

  1. Karen Pearson

    I think this calls for a criminal investigation. There has to be some means of holding these people accountable for what appears to be thievery.

    Reply
  2. Doug Ross

    There are certain topics where you seem only willing to present the viewpoints of others and say “Have at it”. Do you take a side on this issue or not? You were one of the big cheerleaders for the tax. Has it met your lofty expectations? Does what Ms. Quinn present as factual evidence of clear corruption register with you beyond the usual “oh, it’s money, I can’t be bothered with money” response?

    This whole fiasco could be investigated easily. Follow the money. Who authorized payments to whom? Get those people who authorized the payments on the record as to why they made those decisions. Why must The Nerve do all the work for the local media and The State? Is it laziness on their part? Stupidity? Apathy? Collusion? The Penny Tax story should be the lead story every day until somebody is held accountable.

    Reply
    1. Barry

      I just don’t think The State cares very much about the issue- at least that’s the impression one gets when seeing the lack of work they’ve done on the issue – one that you’d think would be front page news for weeks.

      The Nerve had done some excellent reporting.

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        If Nikki Haley does anything remotely questionable, The State will hammer her immediately. If local politicians do anything, they just turn their collective heads and pretend it isn’t happening. Is there ANYONE with any guts over there or are they all just coasting toward a buyout or retirement?

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I’d like you to go over and watch Cindi Scoppe through a workday — which by the way includes the hours in the evening when she’s reading the bills and lawsuits and other mind-numbing documents that she doesn’t have time to read during the day.

          And then, after you’ve recovered from the stress of watching, get back to me.

          Reply
          1. Doug Ross

            I don’t know.. maybe I’m just naive but I would think reporters and opinion writers should be outside their offices talking to people and digging for information instead of reading bills and lawsuits and other documents.

            I don’t care how the sausage is made. I want someone who will go after the butcher who is tossing metal shards and rat poison into the sausage.

            I would think that a reporter or opinion writer would jump at the chance to do something that would really change the system. This story is low hanging fruit right in front of their faces. Grab it and do something with it.

            Reply
            1. Doug Ross

              Bottom line, Brad, what is your level of concern regarding the way the Penny Tax funds have been spent so far? Are you more on Mr. Livingston’s side or Ms. Quinn’s? Do you have faith in the people running the program or not?

              Reply
              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I’m very concerned about the way a portion of the money has been spent.

                Although they’ve done a TERRIBLE job of telling their story, despite all that money spent on PR, most of the money is apparently going where ALL of it should be going — to the promised projects. So no, I’m not with you — and am not likely to be with you — in your persistent belief that the tax shouldn’t have been passed. Even if the council subsequently put all the money in a pile and burned it, it doesn’t call into question the legitimate passage of the referendum, or the legitimate reasons it passed. It just damns the public officials for breaking faith AFTER the passage.

                More than the misspent funds, I’m concerned at County Council’s very self-destructive lack of accountability. The WORST thing they’ve done since the referendum passed was blow off the oversight committee in an extremely high-handed manner. All the bad stuff we’ve seen since seems to flow out of that rotten attitude on their part…

                Reply
                1. Brad Warthen Post author

                  When I typed, “most of the money is apparently going where ALL of it should be going,” I was intending to link to a story that was on the front page of The State a couple of months back that listed, in detail, where all the money had gone, and mentioned specific projects it was being spent on.

                  Now I can’t find that story. Every effort to do so just leads to more stories about the ongoing ruction between the county and DOR.

                  Now Doug will claim I dreamed that story. Anyone besides me remember it?…

  3. Barry

    Paul Livingston’s piece in the newspaper was a very weak defense. Was this something Duane Cooper and his 1 man PR company helped him write with the $100k+ he’s been paid?

    Reply
  4. Mark Stewart

    I supported the idea, the plan, for the penny tax as put forth for the ballot. None of this was part of that plan; nor is it supportable. It should, however, be indictable.

    Reply
  5. Doug Ross

    I spent two days last week driving in Los Angeles. If South Carolina’s roads are “crumbling”, then Los Angeles’ roads are “crumbled”. Driving from the airport twenty miles to East L.A. took me across some of the worst roads I’ve encountered in years. Potholes in Richland County are nothing compared to miles of beat up highways out there. If they could ONLY raise taxes more in California!

    Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        No, we need a DOT that is effective at maintaining roads with the money they already have and a legislature that doesn’t put personal and political priorities over the needs of the public. Maybe if you close YOUR eyes and wish really hard, that can happen. The easiest solution is to just raise taxes and hope that a few bucks make it through the inefficient and corrupt system to provide barely adequate service.

        Reply
  6. Lynn Teague

    It is appalling that Mr. Livingston thinks this is all defensible. It is not. What else is going on in the county government that makes this seem normal?

    Reply
    1. Barry

      His opinion piece was laughable. He didn’t even pretend to question where some of the money had been spent.

      He seemed upset someone questioned his “integrity.” If the shoe fits…….

      Reply

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