Tensions flare at county’s Finance Committee

Controversy surrounding the county’s switch last year to the 1981 financial management system continues.

It was evident on Monday during the county’s finance committee meeting that confusion remains in regards to how the county’s financial management system is structured since the 1981 law went into effect, as it relates to day to day functions in the county’s purchasing department.

Officials discussed operations in the purchasing department moving forward in light of former purchasing agent Tony Foreman’s departure from the purchasing department last month.

Tensions flared when Anderson County Finance Director Natalie Erb brought up, in her report to the finance committee, a request Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank made to her last month via email shortly after Foreman resigned from his post, asking Erb to send Frank copies of all the purchase orders Erb signs.

Erb, as finance director and manager of both finance and purchasing under the 81 law, is tasked with taking on the roles and responsibilities of purchasing agent until an employee is hired. One of the key responsibilities of the purchasing agent is to review and sign off on the county’s purchasing contracts.

After learning of Foreman’s resignation, Frank sent an email to Erb and Purchasing Clerk Sheila Davis on March 27, requesting to have copies of “all purchase orders issued by the purchasing department” sent to her until “the waters are smooth again and further notice.”

“Given Mr. Foreman’s sudden resignation, please notate for my records the number of the last purchase order signed by Mr. Foreman,” Frank further requested.

Davis responded to Frank’s request the following day, on March 28, and told Frank she would make copies of all the purchase orders that were waiting signatures.

During the finance committee meeting on Monday, April 10, Erb apprised finance committee members of the mayor’s request for copies of all the purchase orders Erb signs while acting as purchasing agent.

“I’m not sure what the concern is. I thought it would be best addressed by this committee in case there’s information the remainder of the committee wants,” Erb said, referring to Frank’s request.

Erb stated she was confused by the mayor’s request because it was made at a time when the purchasing department—understaffed—is struggling to stay afloat.

“We have copies of all the purchase orders in the purchasing department. Why do you feel like we need to go through the additional step and use resources to provide copies of every purchasing contract I sign?” she asked the mayor.

Frank replied that she wanted to receive copies “until we get someone in that position.”

Dist. 8 Anderson County Commissioner and Finance Committee Chair Myron Iwanski disagreed with the mayor’s request for copies, and asserted that it would take away from “other critical things” Erb is tasked with in her role as finance director.

“I’d be more than happy to come in every morning and make it in the form of a public records request,” Frank replied.

Erb asked if there was a particular purchase order Frank wanted, to which Frank said she did not have to provide a reason for making such a request.

“I would just like to see them. I’m asking to see them. I don’t have to provide a reason,” countered Frank.

“Is there a reason you can’t come to the purchasing department?” queried Erb.

“I’d very much like to work together,” responded Frank.

Although the request was just for purchase orders, Erb continued that she still “wondered what was the concern.”

Frank stated she did not currently have a concern, but if, in the future, she had concerns, she “wanted to make sure the process was done right.”

“I just want to see. If everything’s going fine, then there will be a point when I don’t need to see them. I just wanted to see because I have a role and my name is on the checks. I just wanted to make sure that everything is going as it should,” said Frank.

Dist. 3 Anderson County Commissioner Phil Warfield was also not in agreement with the mayor’s request, largely because he believed it would be too time consuming a task for the purchasing department to handle right now given its limited staff.

“With all that we’ve got going on right now that’s one additional step that I just don’t think that we need to be doing. If that comes to a motion I’ll vote ‘no’ on it,” commented Warfield.

Anderson County Law Director Jay Yeager was asked by the finance committee if the mayor’s request would necessitate an open public records request, to which Yeager explained that the request could be made as an open records request.

“She can make an open records request. She can ask for a copy if she provides the money for a copy. She doesn’t have to give a reason for that,” stated Yeager.

Iwanski urged fellow finance committee member to “get on with business,” focus on implementing the 1981 law, and “not go down all these rabbit holes.”

“I think we need to have a reason for a search. If you want the information, the records are there,” Iwanski told Frank.

Frank retorted that it was her understanding that under the 1981 law she does not have to sign “any of those contracts,” that her question was a legitimate question under the 1981 act, and that Iwanski was challenging her motives, which she argued was against Robert’s Rules of Order, according to procedure.

Frank went on to state that Erb never responded to her email request asking for copies of the signed purchasing orders.

Said Frank, “She non-responded and chose to bring it up at this meeting. That was her choice. I reached out to her as a director and I’ll be happy to make the committee copies of that email... I guess the solution will be to write all of the committee on all of my emails to her. The goal was to work with her on that. If she felt like that was something we should pursue then the first step is getting the letter. If she didn’t want the letter in, normally a person would respond.”

Erb responded that she had every intention of responding to Frank’s email, but had also been busy with “trying to keep the purchasing department from coming to a grinding halt,” and apologized for not communicating with her directly.

The mayor could fill out an open records request form and she would then make copies of all the purchasing orders she signs, Erb said.

The finance committee then ended the discussion, and moved to other business, with Chairman Iwanski advising the finance committee to “just approve the priorities” of the department this fiscal year and deal with issues like the ones the mayor is bringing up later, at a more opportune time.