January 06, 2006

Bid process sidestepped

ANDERSON INDEPENDENT-MAILBy David Williams Oconee-Pickens Bureau
January 4, 2006

WALHALLA - County officials have admitted that work to clean up the planned site of Oconee County's new industrial park sidestepped the bidding process. The work has been described as a simple exchange of goods for services,

County attorney Brad Norton said this week that it was his fault bush hogging work on the land was not put out for bids. Oconee County farmer Kenny Cain reportedly was allowed to cut hay off the land in exchange for bush hogging portions of the nearly 400-acre site.

Several other questions have also been raised concerning the cutting of hay on the property that was under contract to the county last summer but was not officially deeded to Oconee until Aug 2.

"We should have bid it out," Mr. Norton said of the bush hogging along S.C. 59. "It's 100 percent my fault. We wanted to keep it clean and not cost the taxpayers any money."

The 397 acres was purchased for $2.3 million or about $5,850 an acre. The property is earmarked for industrial development that includes a wastewater treatment plant to support the South Carolina Welcome Center at Exit 1 on Interstate 85. The treatment plant could also support other development along Oconee's share of the interstate corridor.

Mr. Norton said he incorrectly advised County Council Chairman Frank Ables and Jim Alexander, executive director of the county's Economic Development Commission, that it was not necessary to bid out work to clean up the site.

Mr. Ables said the hay was cut and baled before the land was officially deeded to the county and that Mr. Cain had been working the land for about two years.

"Everything is above board," Mr. Ables said Tuesday prior to the regular County Council meeting, which included a session behind closed doors.

Attempts to reach Mr. Cain Wednesday were unsuccessful.

County administrator Ron Rabun said no money was involved in acquiring Mr. Cain's services to bush hog the property.

"However, we should have gone through the procurement process," Mr. Rabun said. "Any asset the county has, you have to go through the procurement process."

According to one Oconee County official, hay on the land was last cut June 20.

Large round bales of hay have been grouped on the back side of the property and one Oconee County farmer, who did not want to be identified, estimated that 25 to 30 acres of hay has been cut. Estimated figures place the price of a large round bale of hay at $35. At five bales per acre for 25 acres, 125 bales would cost $4,375. A large tractor used for bush hog work operating at $75 an hour for a 40-hour week would cost $3,000.

Council member Steve Moore raised the question as to whether or not the county was liable for any accidents that may occur without going through the proper bidding procedure.

"It's hard for me to believe that the county attorney of many years is not aware of the bid process." Mr. Moore said. "It's mine as well as other council members' responsibilities to guard county-owned assets regardless of what something may be worth."

Mr. Rabun said the county has improved the access road to the property and installed a gate. Mr. Ables said the gate and the "Keep Out" signs have been stolen.

David Williams can be reached

At (864) 882-0522 or by e-mail at

Williamsde@IndependentMail.com