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Senate bill could boost budget for underfunded Ethics Commission

By Larissa Johnson
Carolina News and Reporter

Lobbyists fill the second floor lobby of the State House while the Legislature is in session. Relationships between legislators and lobbyists, especially when money is involved, is a key focus of the State Ethics Commission.

The South Carolina State Ethics Commission, responsible for enforcing ethics laws for more than 24,000 elected officials and candidates, has been without a lawyer since October, a vacancy that could hamper enforcement of ethical  conduct laws.

“Having a general counsel is vital,” said Meghan Walker, who became executive director of the commission two weeks ago. With no other lawyers among the 11 staff members left, the commission is essentially unable to process any cases.

Michael Burchstead left the position in November to practice at Collins and Lacy P.C., and the vacancy could remain for as long as two months. The salary at the ethics commission isn’t competitive with private practice or even other state agencies, he said.

The State Ethics Commission ensures that lobbyists and state officeholders follow ethics laws by investigating and prosecuting violations, but it also serves an educational and advisory role.

From legislators to lobbyists, pretty much everyone seems to agree that the commission is underfunded. But almost every South Carolina department could make the same claim — infrastructure, education, health care. With additional money from the state’s general fund uncertain, one legislator is looking to create an alternative source of revenue for the agency.

Sen. William Timmons, R-Greenville, was inspired by a system every state Bar Association uses to raise money for nonprofit work. Lawyers place money they have to temporarily hold for clients into special accounts, and the earned interest goes to the Bar Association.

Timmons wants candidates and elected officials to place their campaign donations into accounts that would earn interest for the ethics commission. It’s a program that hasn’t been tried anywhere else, according to the national Campaign Finance Institute.

“I think it sounds like a terrific idea,” University of South Carolina associate professor of law Greg Adams said. The trust accounts have been a “massive benefit” around the country, he said, adding that it makes sense to fund services for a specific group by drawing money from that group.

In addition to raising about $100,000 for the Ethics Commission — about 6 percent of its current budget — the bill would make income and expenditures from campaign accounts available to investigators and journalists.

“I could allege that I raised a whole bunch of money and didn’t spend any money and nobody would know unless they looked at my bank records through a subpoena,” Timmons said. Under current law, candidates and elected officials submit their own ethics filings.

The bill has 18 co-sponsors, enough to bring it out of committee and to a vote. Timmons is working with the South Carolina Banking Association to iron out the implementation of the interest-on-campaign accounts.

John Crangle, the governmental affairs director for the S.C. Progressive Network, is considered one of the top ethics watchdogs in South Carolina.

The timing for a renewed dedication to ethics couldn’t be better, according to John Crangle, the S.C. Progressive Network governmental relations director. South Carolinians are upset about the SCANA scandal, and legislators are campaigning on bringing ethics and order to state politics.

“Now we have a younger crop of legislators, like Bill Timmons, and I think they’re going to be much more aggressive about reform,” Crangle said.

While the increase from Timmon’s bill would be less than the increase requested by the commission, it would still allow for some much needed changes such as upgraded software and new personnel, according to Crangle.

The commission received $1,643,051 from the state general fund for the current fiscal year, and has requested an additional $364,689 for next year. That would be a 22 percent increase, while Gov. Henry McMaster has asked every agency to cut budgets by 3 percent.

The commission is requesting money to add four additional positions to the 12 it currently has, including an investigator and paralegal.

When Burchstead came into the commission in 2015, there was only one full-time investigator. Now, there are four.

“For a number of years it got so bad that they had to rely on fines and fees and penalties just to pay salaries,” he said. “While the money could certainly be better, as of 2015 or so they’re not doing that any more.”

As the House Ways and Means Committee considers agency requests for funding and prepares the first draft of the 2018-2019 budget, likely to be presented in early March, the Ethics Commission is settling into new, larger offices to accommodate additional staff.

“When an agency like ours isn’t fully funded, like any other government agency, you try to do as much as you can with the resources that you have,” Walker said.

While Timmon’s bill is the only that would create revenue for the commission, others in both the S.C. House and Senate would introduce additional powers and access to information.

“There’s low public trust everywhere,” Timmons said. “We’ve got to make sure that citizens in this country have trust in their public institutions.”

“Fixing It” from The Times and Democrat

“Fixing It” from The Times and Democrat

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“Immigration Boom” from The Times and Democrat

“Golden Opportunity” from The Times and Democrat

“Golden Opportunity” from The Times and Democrat

Austin Dillon Wins Daytona 500 In No. 3 Car 20 Years After Earnhardt’s Historic Victory

By: Camille Jones/TheFourthTurn.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Twenty years ago, Austin Dillon was a kid celebrating a Daytona 500 win in Victory Lane with Dale Earnhardt Sr. On Sunday while driving Richard Childress Racing’s iconic No. 3 Chevrolet, 27-year-old Dillon held off the field and captured his first Harley J. Earl trophy at Daytona International Speedway.

The 60th running of The Great American Race finished in NASCAR Overtime. On the final lap, Austin Dillon made a late move on Aric Almirola. Dillon had momentum and didn’t slow down when Almirola went to block the race-winning move. Almirola lost control and crashed into the outside wall heading into Turn 3. Dillon held on for his second-career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, capturing the third Daytona 500 win for Richard Childress Racing after Kevin Harvick also won the race in 2007 for the team.

“I said my first win I couldn’t beat it, but this does,” said Dillon. “My Grandfather has done everything for me. Everybody knows it. There is a lot of pressure on me to perform because I have had a little bit of everything. But I like that pressure. The same with the No 3. There is a lot of pressure behind that. But I’m willing to take that and go with it. I’m just thankful for all the people that support us along the way. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his family for letting us bring this number back. It comes full circle. I just can’t thank the Lord enough for this opportunity.”

Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. finished second in his Daytona 500 debut and only his fifth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start. Wallace’s runner-up effort marked the highest finish by an African American in the Daytona 500 since Wendell Scott finished 13th in 1966. During his post-race press conference, Wallace became emotional after a hug from his mother. Wallace explained what his second-place finish meant while sharing the experience with his family.  Read the rest of this entry »

Living on Purpose: A practical way to live in God’s peace

Dr. William Holland

By Dr. William Holland

Every now and then I’m asked why I do not express my thoughts about political and social issues. Of course, I have personal opinions about all that is going on just like you, but do we really need more repetitive commentary especially when it comes to confirming how disturbing the world has become? How could I help anything by joining in with the crowd to criticize and argue about problems which are politically and socially divisive? I’m not saying we are to avoid or hide from strife and confusion but rather to limit our intake of negativity in order to keep from being emotionally overwhelmed. Since I am not a political analyst, I intentionally refuse to become tangled up in meaningless merry-go-round dialogue. Instead of multiplying the sorrow about what we already know, we can choose to seek a refreshing word of hope that can inspire and bring encouragement and this is what I’m focused on. Spiritual peace is not something humans can give to each other but it’s a gift from God when an individual seeks His presence. He is the only one that can renew a mind and transform a soul.

It does not take a genius to correlate the world’s anxiety to the daily overload of shocking and discouraging information. Thanks to the ever-increasing wonders of technology, we have a constant access to an endless flow of darkness and strife. It seems many are subconsciously drawn to having their senses stimulated by a constant news-feed, even though a large majority of the content consists of devastation and suffering. With television crime dramas, violent action movies, vulgar music, pornography, vicious video games, and horror films being so popular, I honestly wonder if many people are becoming addicted to tragedy. Is this attraction to sinister and disturbing events, along with the fixation for real-life crisis situations, causing us to lose a healthy perspective of reality? The gospel is called the good news for a life-changing reason and it’s vital to balance our intake of information in order to preserve our sanity and protect our spiritual peace. Let us remember that Jesus came to deliver us from evil and to give us victory over the darkness of sin. “Casting all your cares and anxiety upon Him; for He loves and cares for you” I Peter 5:7.  Read the rest of this entry »

Unique Valentine’s Day themed events happening in Columbia

By Lexi Hill
Carolina News and Reporter

Valentine’s Day is no longer a holiday celebrated by couples only. In fact, the holiday has become a favorite for everyone, often times expanding to include Galentine’s Day (a celebration for friends), or Single Awareness Day (made popular by an iconic “Parks and Recreation” episode). As a result, date night options aren’t the only promotions and deals going on to attract V-Day celebrators. Now, you can stop by Grill Marks for a special cheesecake milkshake or Wildflower boutique for celebratory discounts. Or, you could stop by FIT Columbia for a one-of-a-kind couples acro class, where owner Angie Sellers says participants can, “expect to accomplish the unexpected, to laugh, to play games and step outside of the ordinary.” For a full list of events and promotions everyone can get involved with, keep reading.

If all you really want to do is eat, go to these restaurants:

Grill Marks in the Vista

For Valentine’s Day, Grill Marks is offering a special deal including two Grill Marks burgers, a three-way, and milkshake to share– all for only $25. If you’re feeling fancy, you also have the option to upgrade your milkshake to their V-Day FreakShake. Although this special is only available on Wednesday, the Freakshake is around until the 18th.

Urban Cookhouse

Knownlocally-sourced, fresh food options, Urban Cookhouse is adding something sweet to their menu. From 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, you can decorate your very own custom cookie for yourself or that special someone. Who doesn’t want a cookie made with love?

The Food Academy

If Valentine’s Day is your favorite holiday, or you’re just looking for an excuse to get a drink everyday this week, The Food Academy has you covered. Stop by on Monday for couple’s wine and dine, Tuesday for couple’s cooking class, Wednesday for valentine date night, Thursday for ‘single’s mingle’ event, Friday for date night dinner-for-two or Saturday for a cocktail tasting. Prices vary depending on event.

Kaminsky’s

Opting to stay in on Wednesday instead? Kaminsky’s has the perfect dessert, so make sure you pick it up before starting your movie marathon. The chocolate-covered strawberry small-plated dessert consists of a brownie bottom, a strawberry mouse middle and chocolate mouse top. The dish is the perfect treat for yourself or you and your partner, and costs $7.

If you’re more into #treatingyourself, stop by these shops:

Wildflower Boutique

Sweet-tooths beware, Wildflower Boutique’s sale will keep you coming back for more. On Wednesday, all shoppers will have the opportunity to choose a “conversation heart” from a jar. Here’s the V-Day spin though– all hearts will have a discount on them, ranging from 15 to 50 percent. So, bring your Galentines and buy some new outfits for a night on the town.

Vestique

If you need a necklace or bracelet to finalize your Valentine’s Day look, you’re in luck. Vestique is hosting a “Complete Her Look” sale event where customers who buy a clothing item will receive 25 percent off accessories. While you’re at it, participate in their Share the Love promotion on Instagram. All you have to do is take a picture while wearing a Vestique item with your Valentine, or Galentine, and tag @vestiquecolumbia for a 20 percent off coupon code. This promotion ends Thursday, and the coupon is valid until February 28th.

Bohemian

In celebration of Galentine’s Day and the store’s 8th birthday in Five Points, Bohemian is having a party on Tuesday from 5 to 8 p.m. featuring the work of artist Anne Herlong. There will be food, drinks and, of course, plenty of opportunity to shop.

If you’re looking to get your heart rate up before your celebration, book one of these classes:

Sweat’s Valentine’s Day Ride

Jamie Scott Fitness is known for their tough spin classes, that also doubles as dance parties on bikes. Dance into this holiday with Sweat’s V-Day ride on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. with instructor Allen Derrick. Grab your partner, or a group of friends and get ready for a spin party. For first time riders, the class is free. The drop-in fee is $25.

Pure Barre’s Date Night at the Barre

Looking for a date idea that doesn’t involve going out to dinner? Bring your partner to Pure Barre’s Date Night at the Barre event this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the studio’s Five Points location. Book your tickets beforehand through email (columbia@purebarre.com), $30 per couple, or sign up at the studio. While you’re there, you can also buy a pair of Valentine’s Day Pure Barre sticky socks for $15.

FIT Columbia’s Couple’s Acro Class

Make this Valentine’s Day one to remember. FIT Columbia is hosting a partner acro class with LunaTrix Arts this Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. consisting of exercises that focus on building trust and finding balance. There will also be chocolates and champagne after to celebrate. You won’t find a class like this anywhere else, so don’t miss out! Tickets are $30 per person, or $50 per couple, and can be purchased online.

Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day blend romance and reflection

Frank W. Anderson

Lutheran pastors Frank W. and Mary W. Anderson will spend Valentine’s Day leading Ash Wednesday services at separate congregations. They celebrated Valentine’s on Saturday. Courtesy of Frank W. Anderson

By Larissa Johnson
Carolina News and Reporter

Forty-three years ago on Valentine’s Day, they went on their first date. This year, four days before Feb. 14, he gave her a brand new pair of diamond earrings. The Revs. Frank W. and Mary W. Anderson chose to celebrate on the Saturday before for an unusual reason — both of them are Lutheran pastors.

With Valentine’s Day falling on the same day as Ash Wednesday this year for the first time since 1945, religious couples around South Carolina are making special accommodations. The Andersons will barely see each other on Wednesday. They’ll be leading services at separate churches.

The special demands of the dual holiday can go beyond physical separation. Some Christians practice fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday, throwing a wrench into the typical Valentine’s dinner plans. Ash Wednesday begins the 40-day season of Lent in the Christian calendar, which focuses on piety and contemplation about the life and death of Jesus.

“The Ash Wednesday requirements and disciplines must take priority,” said Msgr. Richard Harris, the pastor at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church doesn’t include Saint Valentine in the Vatican-issued calendar, although many churches still celebrate a Valentine’s feast.

But feasts can be moved around to accommodate more important holidays, such as the beginning of Lent. Harris suggested that Catholics celebrate Valentine’s Day on Tuesday — Mardi Gras — or Thursday.

For Lutherans and other Protestants, there’s nothing wrong with a Valentine’s dinner after an Ash Wednesday service, said Frank W. Anderson, who leads the University of South Carolina campus ministry. He suggested going for a simpler meal, though.

“In some ways, there’s kind of a connection that we are celebrating simplicity in Ash Wednesday, and I think in some ways, Valentine’s Day is celebrating the simple act of being in a relationship,” he said.

The Bible says that “God is love.” And yet there’s a stereotype that religious people are against relationships or romantic activity. Anderson says that simply isn’t true. And according to Harris, Saint Valentine was a Roman Catholic who fell in love with his jailer’s daughter before his beheading.

“Isn’t all of life about our mortality?” Frank W. Anderson said. “Isn’t every day a reminder that we are both immortal and mortal at the same time? I think any day is a good day to celebrate a good relationship.”

And the Andersons have a lot to celebrate. When Frank first asked Mary out on Valentine’s Day in 1975, they walked for hours on the grounds of Newberry College and picked daffodils. Coincidentally, they both already knew they wanted to be pastors.

“Dating at Newberry was basically carrying her books around,” he said.

Then she broke up with him — twice.

“I just thought he was immature,” she said. “But then, I realized I’d be better with him being dead than him walking around with us not together.”

At the time, Frank was part of the Missouri Synod, a Lutheran denomination that doesn’t allow female ministers. His pastor even told him that that God would end their relationship. Forty-three years in, they’re still going strong.

“When you do it for the long haul, there’s a lot of up and down,” said Mary W. Anderson, an interim pastor at Mt. Hermon Lutheran Church. The contrast of solemnity and sadness for Ash Wednesday with romance and love for Valentine’s Day is similar to relationships in everyday life, she said.

With a fried steak dinner and candles, Frank Anderson brought the romance Feb. 10. And the diamond earrings, of course.

“I got her the best present that I’ve ever gotten her in our 40 years of marriage,” Frank Anderson said. “It’s just really nice to be able to surprise somebody.”

While Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s, the end of Lent — Easter — also falls on a secular holiday: April Fool’s.

In Columbia’s St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, a figure of Jesus incorporates imagery of love.
Photo by Larissa Johnson

“Bridge Too Far” from The Times and Democrat

“Bridge Too Far” from The Times and Democrat

“News Rx” from The Times and Democrat

“News Rx” from The Times and Democrat

“Stick Em Up” from The Times and Democrat

“Stick Em Up” from The Times and Democrat

“Porter Domestic Abuse” by Stuart Neiman

“Porter Domestic Abuse” by Stuart Neiman

A Longing For Pine Pollen

Tom Poland

By Tom Poland

Cold weather? Stay up North. My dash says it’s 48 degrees as I drive by a swamp, yet singing frogs drown out my heater fan. They must be pleading for warm weather to arrive. Well, let me tell you, warm weather can’t get here fast enough. Just the other night, I told a lady I couldn’t wait to see daffodils and pine pollen. Yes, pine pollen. The color of spring is gold. Bring on daffodils and bring on yellow dust storms, sure signs winter is loosening its grip on the land.

Now generally I detest the yellow stuff but I detest the cold even more. So let the pollen blow o’er us like fine cornmeal. Truth be told, pine pollen is more like flour. In fact, “pollen” is Latin for “flour,” and patientia is Latin for patience. Here it is February and late March’s peak pollen seems a million years away. Patient I’m not. Release millions of pounds of yellow flour now so a party can take place among the branches. Sooner than later, I hope, we’ll find ourselves in the midst of carousing woodlands. Trees will be mating. As the party fades a bit, rain flushes spent pollen into the streets and it swirls about in lemon-colored puddles. Lovely.

I can’t wait to spray off my deck. I can’t wait to see the yellow stuff tracked across my hardwood floors. Can’t wait to yellow arcs streak across my windshield. As abundant and free as it is, you’d think some folks would have found ways to make money off pine pollen. Well, they have. According to some so-called health food distributors, pine pollen has more than 200 fully bioactive nutrients the body needs. Something in pine pollen, they say, improves the body’s metabolism. Maybe so. (It elevates moods. Just thinking about swirling clouds of yellow lifts my spirits.)  Read the rest of this entry »

Living on Purpose: Hopefully, cancer will soon be defeated

Dr. William Holland

By Dr. William Holland

It’s very sad, but most of us have known someone with cancer or maybe have heard a doctor tell us that we have the c-word. My wife Cheryl has battled this disease on two different occasions but with surgery, radiation and lots of prayer, the Lord has allowed her be cancer free for over 12 years. Whatever the situation, its normal to experience fear and anxiety when it comes to severe illness and in times of distress. May we remember that God is not only aware of our problems but also has the power to take care of them. It’s evident that most people at least subconsciously believe that God can heal because when someone they know is sick, they always ask for prayers and that is wonderful. Nonetheless, we are also recognizing the Lord is very involved in the medical community as He continues to give science the intelligence to comprehend how the human body functions and inspirational ideas for new treatments that can help us overcome diseases. In whatever way our Creator chooses to intervene, we are forever grateful for His mercy and compassion.

I was listening to an interesting conversation the other day by a man named Jay Walker, a respected visionary that researches cutting-edge medical advancements. He said that every day the medical world has a deeper understanding about cancer and is on the brink of discovering new life-saving procedures and medicines. He explained that finding a cure for cancer could happen in the near future but for now, the attention is more focused on helping those who are diagnosed with the disease to live a relatively normal life. As genetics and biomedical technology has advanced over the years, we have seen other serious diseases become manageable and it’s widely believed that cancer treatments will also continue following this pattern. Mr. Walker went on to say, “For the first time in the history of the world, humans are learning how to control the operating code. Scientist are now able to manipulate the DNA, and are at the cusp of understanding the instructional layer that creates the proteins which in turn creates the tissues, systems, and organs of the body. It’s almost as if we’re inventing reading, writing, printing, and thinking all at the same time in the form of scientific medicine.”

Read the rest of this entry »

“Look! Twins!” by Stuart Neiman

“Look! Twins!” by Stuart Neiman

“Opinions” from The Times and Democrat

“Opinions” from The Times and Democrat

“Forgive and Forget” from The Times and Democrat

“Forgive and Forget” from The Times and Democrat

“Exercise” from The Times and Democrat

“Exercise” from The Times and Democrat

Whispered Prayer From Stall No. 1

Tom Poland

By Tom Poland

Life experiences fuel writing, which is a mysterious thing. Something happens and it sends your mind to places long forgotten. Writing’s beautiful. You startle yourself with a luminous phrase. Writing’s frightening. A thing sends your mind to places you avoid. Something last week sent my mind to a time I dread and it has me rethinking how I travel this road called Life.

I was to speak at a complex where elderly people congregate. I was minutes from speaking when a tad too much coffee sent me to the Men’s Room. I began to do what men do when I heard whispers, loud whispers. A man was sitting in stall number one. All I could see were his white walking shoes and one of those HurryCanes standing upright by his feet. I never saw his face. Not once.

I don’t believe he could hear that well. He didn’t know I was in the room with him. His whispers were loud. “Oh Lord,” he prayed, “Just once let me sit next to someone without losing control of my bowels. Just once, Lord, help me, please.”

I didn’t mean to eavesdrop but, caught in a moment, I had no choice. TMI, I know. He continued to pray and in an odd amalgam of memory and empathy “Mr. Piano Man,” Billy Joel’s song popped into my head. “There’s an old man sitting next to me. He says, son can you play me a memory. I’m not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet, and I knew it complete, when I wore a younger man’s clothes.”

When he did wear a younger man’s clothes, I wonder if he ever thought this day would come. Or maybe some infirmity struck just of late. I debated writing this column. It seems like an invasion of privacy but the next night a friend casually said, “Tom, I’ve been thinking about killing myself.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Living on Purpose: As far as the east is from the west

Dr. William Holland

By Dr. William Holland

Someone said, “Our lives are defined by opportunities, including the ones we miss. Let us not weep over chances we have missed, but rather for the ones we did not take.” When I look back over my life, I can see where I’ve made plenty of mistakes and I’ve also missed out on some wonderful opportunities. Maybe you are saying the same thing. If so, I encourage you to resist the temptation to live in regret. Humans are fallible creatures and we all make wrong choices but at least our disappointment reveals that we care and that’s a good thing. James Joyce said, “mistakes are the portals of discovery” and there is no doubt they can be a significant part of our learning process. I realize that living in denial is much easier than forgiving ourselves but repentance is a more worthwhile endeavor than living with the overwhelming feelings of guilt and condemnation. The truth is we can either embrace the inclination to allow these negative thoughts to haunt us and flood our heart with sadness or we can resist this emotional torture by calling on the Lord to heal our heart and renew our mind. God’s plans and ways are bigger than our mistakes and lost opportunities. He is not only ready to forgive and restore us, He can fill our life with confidence, hope, and victory!

It’s common when suffering from regret, to be reminded of certain individuals that we secretly blame for our failures. However, as the water is long gone under the bridge, there is no need to hold on and replay the scenarios of what could have been – you’ve suffered enough. It’s important to consider that walking around in this negative and stressful state of mind can lead to depression, anxiety, and even physical health problems. It would be wise to make a list of those we need to forgive and sincerely pray while making sure our name is at the top. You see, unforgiveness holds us in a spiritual and mental prison and giving it over to God is the key that opens the door to freedom. We are the only one that can choose to put an end to us living in the misery of an unchangeable past. Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they do not have any.” The Bible refers to the devil as the “the accuser” of the brethren and this is where these negative voices are coming from. Some may try to pretend these situations never happened or that maybe they will all just go away which sounds nice, but running away from reality does not work. Being honest with God and ourselves is the pathway to peace.  Read the rest of this entry »