Editor’s Note: In June, Nerve Citizen Reporter Tom Hatfield of Hilton Head helped launch a new initiative for The Nerve called the “Delegation Watchdog Project.” The purpose of the project is to encourage county legislative delegations to hold regular public meetings with their constituents. Following is a story about another Citizen Reporter’s experience with the project. At the end of this story is an accompanying video by Nerve videographer intern Ashley Hinkel.
“People want answers,” says Wagener Citizen Reporter Alberta Wasden, insisting that Aiken County’s delegation should meet regularly because “every county needs that.”
“It doesn’t matter if everybody (constituents) isn’t there,” she continued. “They (lawmakers) are there. We elected them to be there.”
The Delegation Watchdog Project gives Wasden and fellow Citizen Reporters the chance to actively engage with their representatives. Moreover, it provides an open forum for the community to raise questions and concerns, and hold their elected officials accountable.
In Aiken County, Sens. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield; Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken; and Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, make up the county’s senatorial delegation.
Among the county’s House delegates are representatives Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken; Bill Hixon, R-Aiken; Roland Smith, R-Aiken; Kit Spires, R-Lexington; Bill Taylor, R-Aiken; and Tom Young, R-Aiken.
Wasden said she has contacted Taylor and has plans to meet with him in Wagener soon. But for the most part, attempts to gather all the delegates together have been unsuccessful, she said.
“All the people who are running (for re-election) don’t want to be bothered,” says Wasden. “It’s been almost two years since the last delegation meeting. As far as getting them all together, that’s not going to happen until they finish running.”
That means, according to Wasden, that “we won’t be meeting until after next January.”
Coincidentally, Taylor and Wasden were already in contact when she signed onto the Delegation Watchdog Project.
“Taylor sponsored the bill that would rewrite South Carolina’s FOIA (Freedom of Information) laws, and he wanted me to testify,” she said, noting she twice testified before a conference committee assigned to the bill, which died this year in the Senate.
“I spoke to him there,” Wasden recalled. “And I understand this session was busy, and they tried to get a lot of things in there at the last minute. But at some point you have to go home.”
“A lot of people in Aiken County would like to know what’s going on,” she said.
Wasden said she received a generally positive consensus after speaking to several people about whether they would be open to regularly held delegation meetings.
“They say, ‘That would be great. I would really like to talk to anyone who could explain to me what is happening in this state.’”
As an example, Wasden cites recently strengthened trespassing laws.
“You used to have to put signs up on every tree; now, you only have to put signs up in a couple obvious places, and if somebody trespasses on your property, it’s a bigger deal.”
“People need to have a representative they don’t just see during election time,” Wasden continued. “If I said we had a dead dog we were going to bury, I guarantee you I could get three politicians out here right now.”
Wasden said in a delegation meeting “where people can speak to them, they (lawmakers) walk out on the same page.”
They know what the people want,” she said. “Republican, Democrat, Independent – doesn’t matter. They’ve heard from the people. The people have a right to do that.”
Wasden, an accountant, first became involved with The Nerve’s Citizen Reporter program after she was slapped with a $10,000 bill for filing a state Freedom of Information Act request with the town of Swansea, where she runs a consulting business, for basic information such as meeting minutes and financial statements.
Ever since, Wasden said she has committed herself to working for government transparency, particularly at the local level.
Reach Weston at (803) 254-4411 or firstname.lastname@example.org.