BAMBERG – Bamberg County Administrator Joey R. Preston has signed a new contract allowing him to continue running the county's day-to-day operations.
But that’s not resolved the chairwoman’s concerns about extending his contract into 2022.
“This will be a lingering issue,” Council Chairwoman Sharon Hammond said.
Preston has served as the county’s administrator since 2012. He was initially hired through his Anderson-based company Preston Consulting LLC. He began serving as a county employee in 2019.
A divided Bamberg County Council voted to renew Preston’s contract on Sept. 14. The contract includes a one-year extension to run from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.
Councilmen Trent Kinard, Joe Guess Jr., Evert Comer Jr., Larry Haynes and the Rev. Isaiah Odom voted to approve the contract renewal. Hammond and Councilman Clint Carter voted against it.
The new contract was signed by Preston on Sept. 14. The T&D received an emailed copy of the contract from Preston on Oct. 14.
Hammond says she doesn’t agree with the contract extension because three of the people who voted in favor of it will be leaving after the November election.
“I don’t agree with three outgoing council members setting or creating a contract for the new council members, and the extension is on the three new council members,” Hammond said.
Kinard, who is being housed at the Bamberg County Detention Center after being accused of sex crimes against minors, was beaten by Phil Myers for the District 1 seat during the June 9 Democratic primary. Myers will have no opposition in November.
Guess and Odom did not file for re-election to their respective seats in Districts 4 and 5. Spencer Donaldson defeated John J. Jennings for Guess’ seat and faces no opposition in November, while Jonathan Goodman II defeated Ricky Dansby for Odom’s seat and also faces no opposition in November.
Hammond had argued during the Sept. 14 meeting that Preston’s contract should have been renewed for one year and not two.
But Haynes, the council vice chairman, said he is pleased with the job Preston is doing.
“When he first came on, Bamberg County was about to go bankrupt, really. We were at the last straw. Since he's been on, he has moved the county forward. We were able to purchase cars for the sheriff's department, equipment for the county. Before, we had old equipment and equipment was breaking down every day,” Haynes said.
Hammond said, “I think we are spending too much.” Also, “I don’t know if the other council members are informed on all the spending. I know I’m not.”
She added, “My hope for the county is that we can sit down and take a look at all of our expenses and see where we have fat, cut the fat and look at ways that we can do things in a more efficient manner and save the citizens money.”
Haynes said he thinks the council will be able to work harmoniously with its new members.
“I think we just need to come together and unite this county and do the things that we need to do. I know things have been a little out of whack. With this COVID-19, it didn't help any, we weren't able to meet face-to-face, but it should come together,” Haynes said.
“It's a little rough now with some of the businesses that are closing. … We still do have SouthernCarolina Alliance coming through to help us try to get industry in Bamberg and in the other counties,” he added.
Preston said he came to Bamberg County at a time when it was mired in financial and health care challenges, including the closure of its hospital.
“I knew I had to turn the financial ship around. The county, according to my research, had never earned a ‘clean’ audit opinion on its financial statements. … After a few years of hard work, my finance team and I were able to earn a clean audit opinion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015,” Preston said.
“Since that time, we have continued to earn what is called an unmodified, or clean opinion, which is the highest and best opinion you can have. … The county’s general fund balance has increased from $370,000 in FY-12 to over $3.3 million in FY-19,” he said.
The administrator added, “It took it took strategies and written plans to correct past issues that had long been ignored. Often some of the solutions were not the most popular politically; however, for the future of the county, sound decisions had to be made to correct what had been done or not been done in the past.
“Bamberg County has increased the amount of grant funding that it has received in the past by several hundreds of thousands of dollars. One area that I am especially proud of is the replacement and improvements made to the county's machinery, equipment, vehicles, buildings, roads and infrastructure. This is ongoing because almost all the county's infrastructure had been ignored.”
Preston said he pledges to work with council to move the county forward.
“I will continue to work with the county council members to make the county operate efficiently and effectively so that the citizens can have access to important and much-needed government services,” Preston said.
He noted the county is currently working to increase broadband access across the county.
Preston’s two-year contract includes a base salary of $130,711.10.
Under the contract, Preston will be entitled to county benefits as he chooses, including, but not limited to, life insurance, pension accrual or payments, vacation pay, sick pay, employee salary increases and employee grievance rights.
The county will also purchase and maintain general liability insurance covering all county employees, including the administrator, under the contract.
The contract states that there will be "no number of minimum hours set" for the administrator to perform his duties and that he will keep his own retiree health insurance, which is estimated to be $8,000 less per year than what he would have received through the county.
The county has also agreed to pay for an insurance policy providing 24-hour coverage for occupational as well as total and permanent disability income benefits for the administrator.
The administrator will be reimbursed for all budgeted expenses related to cell phone use and "other routine and miscellaneous business and travel expenses" incurred while performing administrative duties.
He is also entitled to all cost-of-living increases that council may grant to its other employees, in addition to any merit increases he may receive for his performance.
The contract states that nothing in the agreement prevents or limits the right of the council to terminate the services of the administrator at any time. Also, Preston can resign at any time from his position.
The contract is for two years. It will be extended another year in the event that written notice of intent to terminate the contract by either party is not given to the other at least 90 days prior to its end.
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