Commissioners consider

Published 4:27 pm Tuesday, April 8, 2008

By Staff
a possible rules violation
Candidate contends board erred in making $279,000 gift to clinic
Staff Writer
Bertie Arnhols, a Republican candidate for a seat on the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners, charged the board Monday with violating its own rules of procedure when it voted to give $279,000 to the Agape Health Clinic a month ago.
The Rev. David Moore, who oversees the clinic, spoke during the public-comment period of the board’s regular March meeting about the need for the clinic to provide dental care to the county’s poor and indigent residents. The board voted unanimously to add the item to its agenda for discussion and subsequently approved the expenditure by a 5-2 vote.
A motion that the county suspend payment of the $279,000 until the rules could be revisited was defeated Monday with a 5-2 vote, with commissioners Hood Richardson and Stan Deatherage voting to suspend payment.
Arnhols pointed out that the board’s rules of procedure allow items to be added to an agenda, but that a subsection of the rules bans such items from being “considered.” Richardson contended the word “considered” means “vote on.”
Richardson agreed the board had violated its rules, saying that the subsection of the procedures had been added to prevent hastily approved expenditures like the one in question.
County Attorney Billy Mayo said that based on his interpretation of the rules he believes the board “acted properly.” County Manager Paul Spruill pointed out that the only thing that “breathes life into these rules” is the commissioners’ adherence too them because the rules were drafted and adopted by the board.
Arnhols also took Moore to task over the rational for starting the dental clinic that he presented to the board. Moore, who was not present at the meeting Monday, explained in March that the dental clinic would alleviate emergency-room traffic at Beaufort County Hospital, which poor patients are using as their primary source of dental care.
Arnhols called Moore’s and Dr. Michael Coyle’s comments “casual” and said some of the information they presented to the board was “inaccurate or misleading.” Coyle is a Greenville physician who serves as the clinic’s medical officer. He was not present at Monday’s meeting.
Through her own investigation, Arnhols said, she found that of 307 emergency-room visits for the purpose of dental care between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008, 273 were after-hours visits when the Agape Clinic was closed. She also said Moore’s argument that poor patients or those on Medicaid or Medicare found it difficult to find a dentist in Beaufort County that would see them is false. After calling every dentist in the Yellow Pages, Arnhols said, she found a number of dentists that regularly see Medicaid and Medicare patients.
Commissioner Al Klemm changed the focus of the discussion from one of procedure to the need for Agape Clinic to provide dental care and the past record of the clinic as a whole.
Klemm also reminded the board that Moore had promised the clinic would be self-sufficient after one year. The one-time grant approved last month would go toward equipment cost and the first-year salary of a dentist and a hygienist, Moore said in March.