How one word can set off a political furor was demonstrated recently when Graniteville residents got in a huff over the Aiken County Council's plan to spend a state allotment of $340,000 to buy the sheriff's office 37 new patrol cars.
The problem was that the state funding was identified by the legislature as "Reimbursement for Graniteville Disaster Relief." To the good folks of Graniteville, this meant the money should be spent on them to ameliorate last January's Norfolk Southern train wreck that spilled chlorine, killing nine people and injuring hundreds more.
Aiken County's legislative delegation leader, state Rep. Roland Smith, R-Warrenville - who serves on the House Ways and Means Committee and sponsored the appropriation - explained that the money was always intended for the sheriff's department. He even presented the county council a copy of an Aug. 16 letter from the Budget and Control Board certifying the "disbursement to the Sheriff's Department as a result of the train accident which occurred in the Graniteville community."
But even that did not satisfy the Graniteville folks. Phil Napier, chief of the Graniteville area volunteer fire department, threatened legal action if the council didn't spend the $340,000 on his town.
Council Chairman Ronnie Young sought a compromise, proposing that some of the money be spent on programs that would include benefiting Graniteville, such as on public health and safety issues that were exacerbated by the chlorine spill.
The feud over how to spend the state's money could have been avoided if the word "Graniteville" had simply been omitted from the title of the appropriation - a lesson Smith says he won't forget the next time he sponsors such a money bill.
Fortunately, the feud quickly dissipated after the U.S. Department of Energy made like Santa Claus, coming through with money to buy the sheriff's patrol cars - freeing the $340,000 up in way that, hopefully, will be spent to benefit both Graniteville residents and Aiken Countians.
This could include funds to pay for a Graniteville memorial under the auspices of the Aiken County Historical Commission and Graniteville Historical Society, a project that also has the support of Rep. Smith and state Sen. Tommy Moore, D-Clearwater.