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U.S. Sen. and presidential hopeful Cory Booker made a campaign stop Sunday in Denmark where he held a forum at Voorhees College. The visit is a part of the South Carolina Rise Tour focusing on introducing South Carolinians to Sen. Booker. A full story will appear in Tuesday's edition of The Times and Democrat.

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Orangeburg County Council
Orangeburg County EMS director: Cut frivolous calls; planned Berkeley hospital causes local concerns

Orangeburg County’s EMS director says frivolous calls need to be reduced.

Many calls do not warrant the services of an ambulance and take away from calls and situations that may be more serious, Director Danny Rivers said.

“Our goal is to try to educate them to get them what EMS is for, and when they need to call us,” he said.

Rivers discussed ambulance services during Orangeburg County Council’s meeting on Friday.

According to state recommendations, the county should have nine ambulances, Rivers said. It has seven.

“They use that number because they say anybody in the state, if you call 911, an ambulance should be to you in eight minutes. That’s their projection. Right now we're at about 11 minutes,” Rivers said.

Rivers said the county’s EMS call volume for 2018 was 15,652. “We are averaging a 500-call increase when it comes to ambulance calls,” he noted.

Rivers reported that the county has nine open paramedic positions, four EMT positions and one dispatch position currently unfilled.

Councilman Harry Wimberly suggested that paramedics could solve many EMS problems.

“If this county has three or four paramedics, they need a pick-up” truck, he said. “The ambulance can dispatch with the two EMS people in it, and the paramedic meets them.”

Wimberly suggested that the paramedics should always be mobile in the county’s EMS pick-up trucks and located in various regions of the county.

“They get that person stabilized. Can those two EMS people bring them back to the hospital and the paramedic is free again to go somewhere else? We might cut the response time,” he said.

County Administrator Harold Young stated that solutions similar to Wimberly’s ideas have been deeply discussed.

“We’re in the process now of reviewing the whole thing, operations, top to bottom, to see where we can make strides from the radio call all the way down to the moment,” Young stated.

Council members also expressed concerns about the acute, 128-bed hospital that will be opening within a year in Berkeley County, specifically in the Nexton area.

The hospital will be about 25 miles from the Eutawville and Holly Hill areas.

In comparison, the Regional Medical Center is approximately 35 miles or more from those same areas.

The council members agreed that the new hospital will probably cause an increase in the number of Orangeburg County residents who seek medical attention outside of the county.

“The way that we combat that is the urgent care center we’re looking to build in Santee. We’ve got to get that done right away,” Young stated.

“We get that done right away and that gives people an option that’s only 10 minutes away, or five minutes away,” he said. “Whatever it takes to focus on that, that needs to be the focus -- to get that urgent care center done.”

Council members Willie B. Owens and Deloris Frazier, along with RMC trustee Gloria James, suggested that a marketing/public relations campaign be implemented as soon as possible to help combat the potential loss of patients.

“Orangeburg is going to have to do an awful lot of marketing to improve and to prove to the residents that the Orangeburg hospital is great and is going to get better. And to really step up marketing in that area we really need to go that extra mile to gain confidence back in the residents and to also highlight positive things that the hospital is doing,” James said.

Charles Williams, president and CEO of RMC, stated that RMC is aware of the threat. He noted that many issues within RMC that are being corrected will also help combat the problem, and reverse the hospital’s negative image in the eyes of the county’s citizens.

“There are basic infrastructure things of the way a hospital should work that did not exist,” Williams said, recalling the state of the hospital when he initially took his position.

“What we are trying to do is put those basic things in place,” Williams said.

“Fundamentally until you get that in a culture, the hospital doesn’t operate,” Williams said.

“You have my word, we’re going to get it done.”

Pink Palace serves as historic icon

Have you ever wanted to see one of the rare examples of Gothic castellated architecture in South Carolina?

Well, you can right here in Orangeburg.

The “Pink Palace” on St. John Street in Orangeburg has a lively history.

The jail is a part of the walking tour of historic sites in Orangeburg. The interior of the building is not open to the public.

Designed along the lines of the English prisons of the day by British architect Jonathan Lucas, the Pink Palace was completed in 1860 after approximately three years of construction.

The castle-like structure served as a prison until 1865, when Union Gen. William T. Sherman used it as his headquarters. Sherman ordered the building to be burned when he left. The main foundation, however, stood firm despite extensive damage, allowing it to be completely restored after the Civil War.

Lucas, who by then was married to a woman from Cordova and living in Orangeburg, supervised the renovation of the building.

From that time until 1976, it housed an assortment of prisoners.

When it was a prison, hard-core criminals lived behind its thick walls. After it became the Orangeburg County jail, it housed only lesser offenders. By the early 1920s, electricity and water had been added at the jail.

It was during the 1950s that the jail got its famed nickname. The late Sen. Marshall Williams’ wife, Margaret, used her influence to have the building painted her favorite color — pink. Williams and her garden club planted the two oak trees that still shade the property. Felons soon began to joke about their reservations at the “pink palace.”

Another story relates how the builders of the structure did not have enough money so they purchased a number of different color paints and stirred them all together, creating the pink color.

The jail became a landmark in the area and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. In honor of the recognition, the jail was given a massive cleaning, with its entire interior being hosed and scrubbed down.

When the county vacated the Pink Palace in 1976 after the Law Enforcement Complex was completed, the building was vacant for the first time in 116 years.

Repairing the facility was too costly an endeavor for the county.

When Orangeburg City Council approached the county about using the building for a museum, the county transferred the title to the city for a dollar. The jail was later painted beige.

By 1989, the city council was forced to lease portions of the building to nonprofit groups and rent out parking spaces in the surrounding lot to help cover the museum’s daily operating expenses.

James M. Guthrie III and John Townsend Sifly purchased the old Orangeburg County jail for $10,000 in 1995 from the Orangeburg Arts Council, which bought the building in 1984.

The remaining property, in use as a parking lot, was sold to First National Bank.

Sifly and Guthrie have no specific use for the property but an interest in preserving what has become a part of Orangeburg’s history.

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North mayor one of two PSC candidates questioning 'not qualified' designation

After nearly a year and a half of delays, state lawmakers have filled a $107,822 Public Service Commission seat with a former longtime commission staffer.

Meanwhile, two rejected candidates for the congressional District 2 seat, which covers all of Lexington, Aiken and Barnwell counties, and parts of Richland and Orangeburg counties, question why a legislatively controlled committee, called the State Regulation of Public Utilities Review Committee, voted to find them “not qualified.”

In interviews with The Nerve, Patty Carson, mayor of the Town of North, and Bruce Cole of Forest Acres in Richland County, president of a Columbia think tank and a PSC nominee last year, said no PURC members or staff gave them any specific reasons for rejecting them.

“It’s not transparent, and it should be,” said Cole, who, according to documents he filed with PURC, earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard University, a master’s degree in accounting from Northeastern University, a master of business administration degree in finance from Stanford University, and a doctoral degree in planning from Clemson University. “You’re representing the people. Everything you do should be transparent.”

Carson, who, according to her PURC documents, holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering management from the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy, provided The Nerve with emails from her to Heather Anderson, the lawyer for PURC, asking why she was found not qualified.

“The (PURC) members did not provide specific reasons concerning each candidate’s finding of qualified or not qualified. The vote was unanimous regarding the finding of not qualified,” Anderson said in an email to Carson, noting that “there is no additional information I can provide.”

Carson told The Nerve she also had concerns how she was treated during her Jan 14. screening hearing.

“All these older gentlemen are just leaning back in their chairs with their arms crossed,” she said. “They didn’t look like they were even interested.”

The Nerve in 2014 reported about another female candidate who was questioned during her screening hearing by Rep. Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, and the PURC vice chairman, about whether she had discussed her candidacy with her children. There currently are no women on the PSC.

The Nerve requested comment from Sandifer and Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, who is the PURC chairman, but did not receive a response. Anderson did not provide specifics to The Nerve about why PURC found Carson and Cole not qualified.

The two nominated candidates, both of whom are attorneys, were Elliott Elam of Lexington, the PSC vice chairman who was first elected to the commission in May 2014; and Florence Belser of Columbia, who worked for the PSC from 1993 to 2003 and since 2004 has been with the state Office of Regulatory Staff, which signed off on South Carolina Electric & Gas rate hikes over the years for the $9 billion V.C. Summer project.

On Tuesday, Belser was elected to the position after Elam withdrew.

The Nerve in May revealed that PURC, which largely controls the regulation of utilities in South Carolina, has no written criteria for making its final choices. State law makes it difficult for the public to participate in PSC candidate screening hearings and other types of proceedings controlled by the Legislature, as The Nerve reported in September.

PURC by law is made up of 10 members, six of whom are lawmakers, though the latest nomination report lists nine members. There currently is a vacant seat designated for a member of the general public, according to Secretary of State records.

Under state law, PURC, which nominates candidates to the seven-member PSC, can nominate no more than three candidates for a seat, which is filled by the General Assembly.

Carson and Cole were among the six most recent candidates who applied for the District 2 seat. James “Buddy” Atkins of Columbia, a former state water official who served on the PSC from 2000-2004, was found qualified but not nominated. Brenton Jeffcoat of Lexington, a bond attorney, withdrew before the Jan. 14 screening hearings, according to Anderson.

Under state law, candidates are legally qualified if they have at least a bachelor’s degree and a “background of substantial duration and expertise” in at least one of eight broad categories: energy; telecommunications; consumer protection and advocacy; water and wastewater; finance, economics and statistics; accounting; engineering; or law.

State law, however, allows PURC members to qualify candidates even if they don’t have experience in any of eight categories, as long as three-quarters of the committee agree to do so and provide “written justification of their decision.”

In her screening hearing, Carson, who since 2015 has been the mayor of North, said she is responsible for “all aspects of the town,” including managing the wastewater treatment plant, police force and public works department, according to the hearing transcript. She previously served as an industrial engineer, marketing engineer, financial analyst and corporate project manager in the private sector, according to records she filed with PURC,

PURC’s final nomination report indicated that Carson had the lowest test score among the candidates. She told The Nerve when she asked Anderson, the PURC lawyer, for a copy of her two-hour written test so she could see which questions she missed, Anderson replied, “Oh, absolutely not.”

Carson said she was “very frank and honest” in a written statement she submitted to PURC, noting, “We need to restore the public’s confidence in the Public Service Commission.”