COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - With Richland County's transportation penny tax under investigation – and under a lot of scrutiny – should a citizen watchdog group have a bigger role in being a watchdog?
That was the main question the group called the Transportation Penny Advisory Committee, or TPAC, considered in its Monday night meeting – its first meeting since the news broke that the South Carolina Department of Revenue (SCDOR) is auditing the penny tax program for potential misuse and illegal activity.
"I thought the results were very good," said member Carol Kososki of Forest Acres. "I was very impressed with the TPAC's efforts in moving forward so that we can get this audit issue behind us and to get some public credibility resumed."
In the meeting, Chairman Hayes Mizell told members like Kososki that SCDOR still has multiple ongoing investigations, which is the reason the state agency didn't attend with an update.
He also asked the members, county leaders, and the few councilmen in the room if any of them knew about any illegal activity with the penny but didn't get a response.
County Administrator Tony McDonald assured the panel that measures are in place to spend the tax money responsibly.
However, the members voted unanimously for an annual independent audit, separate from the SCDOR's.
"That's one of the things that the TPAC can do. They can call for it yearly, and when you have a program of this size, an independent audit is just the right thing to do," said Richland County Transportation Director Rob Perry.
Now, the watchdog group will just have to decide what kind of increased role it wants to play: a plan laid out by Councilman Norman Jackson that would structure the committee like the Planning Commission or a very detailed three-pronged approach proposed by Councilman Seth Rose.
Transportation Director Perry said that's a decision this group of everyday citizens will have to decide.
"I welcome anything to bring about the public trust, and again, so we all look back and look at all these projects. Richland County will be the county that did it the right way," he said.
The TPAC will meet again on February 12th at 9 a.m. for a work session to start figuring out how much oversight they want and the process to make it work.
By the way, a concerned citizen told WIS he likes Rose's motions a bit better, since they are more specific and detailed. He thought the meeting Monday was "hogwash." He said no one seemed to show enough concern that the penny program is under state investigation. He also wants to see county officials take more of the blame.
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