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Denmark man accused of murdering man found in Cope

A Bamberg County man has been charged with murder after a man’s body was located in Cope the day after Christmas, according to Orangeburg County Sheriff Leroy Ravenell.

“This is the result of a solid, thorough investigation by my investigators,” Ravenell said Wednesday. “They got on the case and developed a suspect early and didn’t let go of the trail.”

Stanley Lee Dixon, 55, of Denmark, was taken into custody on Wednesday on a charge of murder.

A court appearance for the Carolina Highway man is tentatively scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Concerned citizens called 911 on Dec. 26, saying there appeared to be a body off Highway 301 near Cope.

Investigators later identified the victim as 40-year-old Louis D’mitri Patrone Wise from Denmark.

An autopsy revealed the man had been shot.

The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division and the Denmark Police Department assisted in the case.

Orangeburg County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Lakesha Gillard is leading the ongoing investigation.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster sworn into office

COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster took the oath of office Wednesday for his first full term, pledging commitments to economic prosperity and education advances in an address that marked the culmination of years of work to win the office in his own right.

"We know that our success in today's worldwide economic competition depends on our intellectual capacity, training, research and development, knowledge, innovation and imagination," McMaster told a crowd assembled on the South side of the Statehouse in Columbia. "That is why South Carolina's commitment to education must be second to none in the United States, and we will see that that is a fact, a reality."

McMaster has held the state's top office since early 2017, when the then-lieutenant governor was hastily sworn in following the resignation of Nikki Haley to join the Trump administration as U.N. ambassador. In November, he defeated Democratic state Rep. James Smith, cementing his own claim to a full, four-year term.

The election last fall was the first in which South Carolinians chose a governor and lieutenant governor on a shared ticket. Also Wednesday, Upstate businesswoman Pamela Evette became the second woman to assume the state's second-highest office and the first Republican woman to do so.

McMaster, 71, is a fixture in South Carolina's political circles, serving two terms as South Carolina's attorney general and previously leading the state's Republican Party. He lost a previous gubernatorial bid, coming in third in a four-way GOP primary in 2010 to Haley.

In a sweeping inaugural speech sprinkled with sports metaphors, McMaster said economic competition is one constant in human history and he plans to keep South Carolina competitive through low taxes, determined recruitment of new businesses and a renewed focus on education — which has received a significant amount of attention in recent months.

"We must compete. We must win," McMaster said. "This is our time. South Carolina is winning. And we will keep winning."

Before every living South Carolina governor from former U.S. Education Secretary Dick Riley to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, McMaster said that South Carolina has the talent and the ability to keep booming. The state now has more than 5 million people — 2 million more than when his life in public service started as U.S. attorney in 1981.

"I see before us the brightest of futures. But we must think big, have confidence and be bold. We will do things we have not done before. And we will succeed," McMaster said.

Although his position allowed him the mantle of running as an incumbent, McMaster drew four Republican challengers in the primary and was forced into a runoff where he ultimately defeated businessman John Warren of Greenville.

McMaster supported Donald Trump when few other Republicans would dare stick their necks out, becoming the first statewide-elected official to endorse the businessman's presidential bid in 2016.

At the time, the move surprised many of McMaster's allies and friends in South Carolina's GOP establishment. But his wager paid dividends when Trump picked Haley for his Cabinet, enabling McMaster to ascend to the governor's office. In his address Wednesday, McMaster took veiled opposition to the Trump administration's proposals to expand drilling off the Atlantic Coast, saying, "I will firmly stand against all efforts to endanger the future of our pristine coastline."

Earlier this week, McMaster voiced support for state Attorney General Alan Wilson's decision to join a federal lawsuit opposing the administration on drilling.

McMaster took the oath of office on the Statehouse steps in Columbia under brilliant blue skies. Other events for the day include a prayer service at First Presbyterian Church, where McMaster regularly attends, as well as a Governor's Mansion open house and an evening inaugural ball at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

All official events except the ball are open to the public.

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Govan begins tenure as chair of S.C. Legislative Black Caucus

COLUMBIA – State Rep. Jerry N. Govan Jr., D-Orangeburg, has started his tenure as chairman of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.

Govan will lead the historic organization during the course of the 123rd S.C. General Assembly regular session, which runs 2019 through 2020.

This will be the second stint for Govan as head of the SCLBC. He previously served as chairman during the 115th S.C. General Assembly session, 2002-2004.

“I am honored to once again lead this great organization. We have important work to do over the next two years. My goal will be to work with organizations and individuals committed to improving the lives of minority communities in South Carolina with the focus of passing meaningful legislation. Cooperatively working together, I truly believe we can make lasting improvements in our state,” Govan said.

“My priorities as chair will center on public education, health care, criminal justice reform, job creation and working to improve conditions in our rural communities,” he said.

The 2019-20 South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus consists of 44 members of the S.C. General Assembly, which includes 13 senators and 31 state representatives.

The SCLBC was formally organized in 1975 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization focused on improving, empowering and inspiring minority communities across South Carolina.

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Preston severance heads to S.C. high court

Anderson County and its former administrator Joey Preston will soon be challenged to condense a decade's worth of controversy over his $1.1 million severance package into arguments that lawyers have just minutes to present to South Carolina's highest court.

The South Carolina Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the severance-pay case Feb. 20 in Columbia, according to an electronic case roster published on the state Judicial Department's website.

The scheduling comes after a Dec. 28 Independent Mail article that examined the case and how Anderson County and Preston, together, have spent at least $4 million on the court battle without reaching a final outcome.

County officials are still seeking to nullify Preston's November 2008 contract buyout while he is trying to hold onto it and recover the legal fees he has paid in the fight to keep it.

Preston, 55, is now an administrator in Bamberg County, but he still lives and owns a home in Anderson.

It is too early to know whether the promise of a day in court will bring the opposing sides to the table to discuss settling the case.

"I'm always willing to listen," Anderson County Council Chairman Tommy Dunn said Monday. "If there is any talk of a settlement, it's going to have to start with Mr. Preston's lawyers.

"I can tell you it is about time for this thing to be heard in court," Dunn said. "That's well overdue. But who knows anymore how long it could go on after that? It could be months."

Vote on severance package a key issue

On Nov. 18, 2008, the Anderson County Council revised its meeting agenda and voted 5-2 to approve a severance package for Preston that included cash, $355,849 in state retirement credits and a GMC Yukon that he drove on the job.

Several new council members took office in January 2009, and soon thereafter, the county sued Preston to try to have the severance rescinded.

A decade later, that case is bound for the state Supreme Court.

Judge Roger Couch, who presided over a civil trial of the case in the fall of 2012, said then that the 2008 vote on the pay package was a key issue in the case.

Couch ruled in May 2013 that four of seven council members who voted on Preston's pay package — including the two who opposed it — should not have voted because they had various conflicts of interest. Throwing out those four votes, Preston's severance pay would be approved on a 3-0 vote, Couch said.

The county appealed Couch's decision that favored Preston.

Four years later, in May 2017, the South Carolina Court of Appeals sided with Anderson County.

The appeals court found that disqualifying four of the seven council members from voting on the severance agreement "destroyed the quorum necessary for conducting valid business.” Thus, the appeals court declared Preston's severance agreement "null and void."

The oral arguments scheduled for February are a result of the state Supreme Court agreeing to review the case.

What's next?

Neither Preston attorney Lane Davis nor Ted Gentry, an attorney for the county in this case, returned calls seeking comment about the Supreme Court scheduling Monday.

In response to questions from the Independent Mail last month, Preston said he blames the Anderson County Council for pursuing a “retaliatory dispute” that continues to “fracture and negatively affect our community.”

“Their lawsuit made it difficult for me to find work for three-and-a-half years and caused distress to me and my family,” Preston said.

After a decade of legal wrangling, only two Anderson County Council members who voted to sue Preston are still in their elected positions: Dunn and Cindy Wilson.

In a November interview with the Independent Mail, Wilson said there are important principles at stake in this case.

“It is not just a matter of getting the money back. It is a matter of there being consequences,” she said. “Because if we don’t have accountability and consequences for bad actions, we’re only going to be repeating it.”

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S.C. State seeks $42.6M from state; university wants money for tech, repairs, personnel

COLUMBIA — South Carolina State University is asking for a total of $42.6 million from the state in next year’s budget.

President Dr. James Clark and other university officials appeared before the House Ways and Means Higher Education Subcommittee on Wednesday to discuss the requests.

Each request was categorized as recurring, non-recurring and capital, and included the dollar amount of the request.

Recurring requests

S.C. State Vice President for Finance and Management Teare Brewington said one of the top requests is $1 million for critical positions.

“There was a study done by the state about two years ago that indicated that there were some key positions at the university that we needed to have in place, both from a financial perspective, marketing, branding, procurement,” she said.

“We’ve done a little over time, but there’s still a need for that staff, as well as the number of funds budgeted for staff development,” Brewington said.

The university is also seeking about $1 million in recurring dollars for student success and enrollment.

“This will allow us to increase our tutorial programs to the students, expand our job placement center and expand our online,” Brewington said.

The university is also seeking $2 million for its speech pathology program.

“The university has committed to relocating that program to a larger building,” she stated. “So, by June of 2019, they’ll be in a space that will allow them to service more. In order to service more, we have to have more faculty and clinical supervisors, and some professional development.”

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, asked Clark how S.C. State’s program expansion will impact a recent speech pathology program expansion at Francis Marion University and vice versa. Cobb-Hunter is first vice chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

“What we did not do is invest at the appropriate level to allow us to maintain our quality and deal with the demand that we have,” Clark said.

“This will simply allow us to deal with some more of the demand that we have. It’s not adding new services. It will not take away from what Francis Marion has done,” Clark said. “My fear is that if we don’t do this, then one of our premier programs could eventually get sucked right out from under us.”

Cobb-Hunter stated that she partly raised the question to notify the new subcommittee chair of the importance of honoring S.C. State’s request.

Non-recurring requests

Brewington highlighted a few of the university’s non-recurring requests, including $2 million for information technology.

“This request was actually $5 million last year and the state did give us $3 million, for which we say ‘Thank you,’” Brewington said.

The $3 million was spent improving the bandwidth, network switches, reliability and connectivity on campus.

This year’s request will help with implementing an IT structure to assist the university’s planned online expansion, Brewington said.

The university requested $2.2 million for student success and enrollment efforts.

“What we’re starting on campus is what we call the Presidential Promise which will allow some students to receive financial assistance for campus service community hours. And then we’ll also be providing some marketing improvements, new website, just an overall part of the campus branding,” Brewington said.

Capital projects

Brewington also highlighted some of the university’s capital requests, and also discussed the university’s current capital projects.

“We have three capital projects currently underway. All are fully, federally funded. One’s on campus, that’s the extension; we have one at Camp Daniels, which is currently underway, and then there’s one that’s going to be put up in Charleston, it’s the Community 1890 Outreach Center,” Brewington said.

Brewington said the university broke down its $12 million request for Truth Hall improvements into smaller amounts.

“Phase one of Truth Hall would be the $4.4 million. This would be for our fire suppression system, mechanical updates. These are more health and safety, and infrastructure, things that won’t be seen mostly to the naked eye,” Brewington stated.

The university has also been working to replace roofs.

Phase one is currently underway. The university is requesting $2.7 million for phase two and $2.5 million for phase three.

“The university received some key dollars that we allocated to the roofing project, so that’s going to be about $1.7 million each year. We prioritize those academic buildings that needed it the most,” Brewington said.

The university is seeking funds to renovate the student center, including addressing roofing and infrastructure issues.

S.C. State also requested $1.1 million for the demolition of three buildings.

The buildings have been “offline for about five years,” Brewington said. The potential for green space and a possible new student center are considerations to replace the buildings, according to Brewington.

Cobb-Hunter stated that she would like for the possible demolition of the buildings to be used as a workforce development opportunity and a training opportunity, specifically with Orangeburg-Calhoun and Denmark technical colleges.

“There is a need to train people in hazmat removal, and all of that and I think it’s an opportunity that may be replicated on other areas,” she said.

“We’re anticipating $3,450,000 in storm water infrastructure,” Brewington said, with which to handle some flooding issues.