Originally created 06/03/04

Council wants college seat promise fulfilled



AIKEN - It's been a year since the Aiken County Council agreed to give Aiken Technical College an additional $342,000 in return for a seat on the school's board of directors, and the county has yet to take its place at the table.

Council members say they've grown tired of waiting for a position on the board, especially when county money makes up roughly 10 percent of the school's $15 million budget.

"If you own 5 percent of any public company, you're automatically guaranteed a seat on that board," Councilman Eddie Butler said Wednesday.

Mr. Butler was one of several council members who questioned Aiken Tech President Susan Graham about the issue Tuesday night at a regularly scheduled meeting she attended.

"I'm sincerely disappointed," Councilwoman LaWana McKenzie told Dr. Graham.

Council members said they favored giving the school money because an educated work force betters the community and economy. It becomes a matter of fairness when Aiken Tech is using tax dollars to improve the school while the county might have to go without, they said.

"Are their employees treated on an equal standard with our employees?" Mr. Butler asked. "We don't have any idea. We're not involved in their budget process."

The county council, which by state law is required to pay for maintenance fees at Aiken Tech, was already giving the school about $1.5 million when Dr. Graham and members of the school's board of directors asked for additional help last year.

After extended debate, the council cautiously budgeted extra money for the school, which Dr. Graham said Tuesday had helped keep down tuition costs.

"I believe truly that (the board of directors) planned to have someone named," she told the council.

The law mandates that Aiken County's legislative delegation select Aiken Tech's 10-person board. The county council was originally offered an ex officio position, but it was later decided that state Rep. Jim Stewart, R-Aiken, would nominate someone from his district that the council agreed to.

Delays have occurred because one candidate backed out and the current candidate, whom Mr. Stewart wouldn't name, has yet to agree to the nomination, Mr. Stewart said.

Council members contend that they should be allotted their own seat independent of the legislative delegation.

"The appointee by Jim Stewart is just kind of a Band-Aid until we can get something done," Mr. Young said.

It would take a change of state law to give the county appointment power.

"Since I agreed to work with the council, it hadn't come up again," Mr. Stewart said.

"We're not getting any request to do that."

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 279-6895 or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.