Two of three Wagener mayoral candidates discuss financial responsibility and firefighters’ problems | New
WAGENER – Only one of the three mayoral candidates in this small town in Aiken County took part in a candidates’ forum for the November 2 election on Wednesday evening.
Christopher Salley showed up while rivals incumbent Mike Miller and Travis Kennedy stayed on the sidelines.
During and after the event, Salley answered questions about how the financial accountability of the Town of Wagener could be improved and that of the Wagener Fire Department.
Miller also discussed these topics in a telephone interview Thursday.
When asked why he did not participate in the forum, Miller replied that it was because he “understood that it had been orchestrated by someone whom I consider hostile to the city”.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Internal Revenue Service, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, and Aiken County have all reviewed in recent years or are investigating the expense and management money from the town of Wagener.
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“We don’t know what shape the city is in (financially),” said Salley, who runs the family business Palmetto Hardware & Outdoors. “We have asked and we cannot get any answer on the city’s financial situation. I will be completely transparent as mayor.
Salley also said he would like the Town of Wagener to make available to the public, “along with the water bill,” a monthly statement showing how much is spent and what it is spent on.
Plus, if the city can afford it, Salley has said he wants to hire, at least temporarily, a city administrator “to get us back on track” financially.
This person would “likely” work part time, Salley said.
Miller’s plan, if he is reinstated, is to have a full forensic audit done.
“With all the questions and the fact that we have been in so much debt without our knowledge, I think there is room to explore accounting in the last few years,” he said. “We may just be able to do the master counts and find no reason to go any further. I am not a financial expert and I do not know how to detect discrepancies if there are any.
The purpose of the audit would be “just to clear the records,” Miller said.
He doesn’t believe that he or the other elected officials in the town of Wagener have done anything wrong.
“We don’t spend – as he’s been accused – recklessly,” Miller said.
Last year, disputes between the Town of Wagener and the Wagener Fire Department led to the suspension and subsequent dismissal of Fire Chief Mark Redd and his deputy in command, George Day.
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Several firefighters subsequently left the service.
The disagreements concerned how the department was run and how its money was spent.
There is also evidence that the fees collected specifically for the operation of the volunteer fire service were used for other purposes by the Town of Wagner. It is not clear if the department has already been reimbursed.
David Watson is now the fire chief, and he has recruited new firefighters.
Under Watson’s leadership, the Wagener Fire Department “does a terrific job with the outreach that they do,” said Salley. “They’re trying to recruit young people, and I think that’s great.”
But, he added: “I would like to bring together the old and the new. If they (the old firefighters) wanted to come back, they could absolutely come back.
Salley said he would also like to “separate the fire department from the city”. In charge of the department would be a council made up of people who live in the district served by the department.
Additionally, Salley said he wanted to make the Wagener Police Department a “public safety department,” with employees trained to help fight the fires.
Miller is pleased with the performance of the fire department currently.
“It’s better than I’ve ever seen it in my life,” he said. “We have young people involved. We have women involved. And we have whites and blacks who work very well together. Young, old, women, men, black and white – they all do a great job. I have not received any complaints about the firefighters.
Firefighters who served during Redd’s tenure, “are not totally banned” from returning, “but the methods of operation of the past will not come into play,” Miller said, if re-elected.
“No one is, I would say, banned for life,” Miller continued, “but they have to work with the chef, the deputy chef and these people who are doing such a good job now.”
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Miller said there were currently “20 to 30 members” of the Wagener Fire Department.
They have different levels of training, “but they know their roles and they respect them,” he added.
The Aiken Standard contacted Kennedy, a paramedic who works for Aiken County, by phone Thursday and asked him why he had not participated in the candidate forum.
“I trained from morning until mid-afternoon (Wednesday),” Kennedy said. “Then I had other things to do, and it was already arranged before this event (the forum) was published. “
Because he was at work when contacted, Kennedy declined to talk about the Wagener-related topics that Salley and Miller had raised.
“I’ve been told I can’t talk politics while I’m on county time,” Kennedy said.
His 24-hour shift was not to end until 8 a.m. on Friday.
The Candidates Forum was held at Listine Gunter Courtney Senior Center.
The other participants were Taylor Love and Kevin Young, who are running for city council seats. Incumbents Andrew O’Byrne Jr. and Randy L. Kitchings were not in attendance.