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County Has High Hopes for Property Behind Courthouse

Observer Reports

The vacant lot behind the historic Anderson County Courthouse may not be empty much longer. 

After failing to find the right fit for the property, Anderson County is now exploring a partnership with Peach Properties of Columbia to help find the perfect fit for this valuable real estate which formerly served as home to the Bailes/Woolworth businesses.

The goal has long been to build a public/private partnership facility on the site, one which will bring more people downtown and provide both retail, office and potentially residential space.

Anderson County Administrator Rusty Burns would even like to see an observation deck on top of the new structure, offering a panoramic view of Anderson from downtown.

Burns said he would like whatever is constructed to be the most significant building downtown.

The property is part of the original charter property of the City of Anderson. Demolition was completed on the property in 2016, 


Lawsuit Claims S.C. Voting Process Not Secure

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina election officials are accused in a new lawsuit of failing to keep the state's voting processes secure.

The State newspaper reports the suit filed Tuesday says the South Carolina Election Commission has deprived voters of their constitutional right to vote by failing to provide a reliable voting system.

The suit filed by a businessman and a former state lawmaker says the state's thousands of digital voting machines are antiquated, leave no paper trail and have "deep security flaws" making them vulnerable to hacking.

Commission executive director Marci Andino told the newspaper she hadn't seen the lawsuit and had no comment. Andino says the commission knows its voting machines are near the end of their 15-year life cycle and wants to replace them before the 2020 presidential election.


S.C. Sales Tax Holiday Set for Aug. 3-5

South Carolina's annual Sales Tax Holiday – the state’s popular three-day sales and use tax break on traditional back-to-school purchases - is set for Aug. 3-5 this year.
The annual sales tax Holiday, which was implemented in 2000, provides taxpayers with an exemption on the 6% statewide sales tax as well as any applicable local taxes, the tax-free weekend also benefits in-state businesses by urging taxpayers to do their back-to-school shopping in South Carolina.
During this time, taxes will not be imposed on clothing, shoes, school supplies, book bags, computers, printers, bedspreads and linens, and more. Nonexempt items during the weekend include the sales of jewelry, cosmetics, eyewear, furniture, or items placed on layaway. Portable devices whose function is primarily used for telephone calls, listening or downloading music, watching videos, or reading books, are not exempt during the tax-free weekend. However, with the growing popularity of computer tablets, portable devices that have computing functions and allow users to access multiple software applications are considered computers and are therefore tax-exempt, provided they do not allow users to make telephone calls.

The popularity of the tax-free weekend has made it the third busiest shopping period of the year, surpassed only by the weekends after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, as South Carolina shoppers save an average $3 million on taxes during the tax-free weekend.
For more information about this year’s Sales Tax Holiday, including an example list of exempt and nonexempt items as well as a listing of frequently asked questions, visit the S.C. Department of Revenue website,, under the “What’s New” section.


McMaster Campaign Raises $1.28M Between May 23-June 6

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster raised more than a million dollars in the most recent filing period as he seeks his first full term in office.

Online records show the Republican raised $1.28 million from May 23 to June 30. He finished the period with about $221,000 cash on hand.

Democratic nominee James Smith raised about $316,000 during the period. The state representative from Columbia had around $128,000 cash on hand.

Smith won his June 12 primary outright, defeating Florence attorney Marguerite Willis and Charleston consultant Phil Noble. McMaster was forced into a runoff with Greenville businessman John Warren, ultimately winning that contest on June 26 with about 54 percent of votes cast.


Ozone Advisory for Upstate; Some Urged to Stay Indoors

It's not just the heat, it's the ozone.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has issued an air quality advisory for Anderson and other Upstate counties until Thursday morning.

The Air Quality Index is expected to be between 101 and 150, creating conditions unhealthy for sensitive groups and it will be declared an "ozone action day."

People with lung disease including asthma, children, older adults and people who are active outdoors should limit prolonged outdoor exertion on Wednesday.


BMW Says S.C. Expansion Plans Still in the Works

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) - BMW says it still plans to add 1,000 workers in South Carolina, even as the company starts production of a new vehicle in China.

Spokesman Ken Sparks told the Herald-Journal of Spartanburg that BMW's new electric iX3 SUV will be produced only in China, and that effort won't affect production of the new X7 model in South Carolina.

But BMW's U.S. manufacturing remains vulnerable to a trade war. China imposed another 25 percent charge on imports from the U.S., prompting BMW this week to announce higher Chinese sticker prices. The South Carolina plant exports more than two thirds of the 400,000 vehicles it has produced annually, mostly to China.

Small Business Chamber President Frank Knapp says BMW's suppliers need more details, so they can know how many people to employ.


Council Finalizing Raises, Looking and Health Care, EMS Plans

Anderson County is working to finalize the raises for county employees.

During Tuesday night’s county council meeting, Anderson County Councilman Tom Allen said the first round of raises went into effect for most of the county’s 9000 employees July 1. These employees will receive and additional salary boost next year. (Allen discussed these issues in this video interview).

Four other employees not covered by the raise - the Clerk of Court, Coroner, Treasure and Auditor - will receive a one-time two-percent raise under the plan. 

Allen said council is also considering moving employee health benefits to a self-pay program, to reduce the increasing costs of the state health plan.  

Council asked for a proposal from the local Palmetto Insurance Agency, and working with them to evaluate the efficacy of moving to a self-insured county program. 

“It’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, once we see that entire picture we’ll be able to make a decision,” Allen said. “We still have a few more meetings to get this ironed out, but it’s under way.” 

“This is exploratory, but in long run could provide better health care for all our employees,” said Anderson County Council Chairman Tommy Dunn. 

Also on Tuesday night, Anderson County Councilman Ray Graham reported on the Public Safety Committee’s efforts to improve safety and build standardized policies for county-owned vehicles, with a focus first on law enforcement vehicles. 

A video of Graham discussing this issue is here

Graham also told the full council that the county is still tweaking EMS provider contracts to make sure the county is protected with a unified program. 


County Hopes to Address Dispatch Needs Soon

Despite increasing salaries, which has helped in recruitment, Anderson County hopes to find new ways to retain 911-Emergency Dispatch workers.

"Every county in the state is having a big problem with getting qualified dispatch help," said Anderson County Councilman Ray Graham Tuesday night. 

Graham said dispatch communications is crucial.

"We're struggling trying to cover the whole system," Graham said.

Graham said Anderson County Emergency Management Director Lt. David Baker has put a program in place to address the concerns.

"Hopefully in the next three-to-six months we'll have this up to where it needs to be," Graham said.

In the past few years, the call center has averaged 10 open positions, but currently 14 positions are unfilled. Officials told WSPA-TV part of the issue is the short duration of those who fill these positions, which currently averages two to four years due to other growing opportunities in the first responder field.

Better scheduling to increase staff during peak hours is among the primary goals of the county. Anderson County Councilman Ray Graham said improved training now under way should also make a difference.

"It could be four to six months down the road before you even knew if the candidates would make it as a dispatcher and now they have some programs in place that they can kind of put them in the hot seat on a training atmosphere right off the top of the program," Graham said. Graham said the call center should be close to fully staffed within six months.

S.C. Leaders Ask Graham to Educate Trump on Tariffs

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina's business community wants U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham to help educate the Trump administration about effects its trade policies could have on the state's economy.

South Carolina Chamber of Commerce President Ted Pitts on Tuesday sent a letter asking Graham "to do whatever it takes to inform the administration about the jobs at risk when it takes a narrower view of trade."

Last Friday, the United States slapped 25 percent taxes on $34 billion in Chinese imports, mostly industrial goods the Trump administration says receive subsidies or other unfair support from Beijing. China quickly lashed back with tariffs on $34 billion in U.S. products.

BMW employs 10,000 in its South Carolina plant. On Monday, BMW said it would raise prices on U.S.-built SUVs exported to China due to tariffs.


All 12 Boys Now Rescued from Thailand Cave

Divers on Tuesday rescued the final four boys and their coach from a deep cave in Thailand, where they'd been for more than two weeks.

Thai navy SEALs, who'd led the operation, made the announcement on its Facebook page Tuesday.

"Today, the boar's pack will be reunited again," the post read, referring to the name of the boys' soccer team, the Wild Boars.

The rescues moved quickly Tuesday, hours after divers and cave experts brought the first eight boys to the surface. They are being treated in isolation at Chiang Rai hospital, where officials say they appear healthy and fever-free, mentally fit and in high spirits, a medical official told CNN.

Dr. Jedsada Chokedamrongsook, secretary of the Thai Health Ministry, said some had very low body temperatures and two could have lung inflammation. A boy from the second group had a very low heartbeat, but they have all responded to treatment well, he said.

Medical teams are likely look for signs of Histoplasmosis, also known as "cave disease," an infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus found in bird and bat droppings, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The boys will likely remain under observation for at least seven days and in quarantine to protect them from potential infections while they regain strength. They are also being slowly re-acclimated to bright light.

Several others remained in the cave after the last of the boys and their coach were removed, including a physician and SEAL divers.

The group was stranded for nine days before two British divers discovered them a week ago.


BMW to Increase Manufacturing in China

Prices Expected to Rise on S.C.-Built Vehicles

BMW is increasing manufacturing capacity in China in a move that will help the automaker lower its reliance on imports from a U.S. factory just as trade tensions between the two countries intensify.

BMW also said it will raise the price of South Carolina-built vehicles sold in China to help offset that country's new 40 percent import tax on cars from the U.S., retaliation for higher tariffs on Chinese goods imposed by President Donald Trump.

BMW employs nearly 10,000 in the Upstate, where it builds SUVs which are exported to more than 130 countries.

BMW and Chinese partner Brilliance Automotive Group Holdings signed an agreement Monday to expand their joint venture, the German automaker said in a news release. The deal will boost the number of cars produced annually at two facilities in China to 520,000 by 2019.

“Our agreement sets a long-term framework for our future in China — a future involving continued investment, further growth and a clear commitment to the development and production of electric vehicles,” BMW CEO Harald Krueger told Bloomberg.

BMW and Chinese partner Brilliance Automotive Group Holdings signed an agreement Monday to expand their joint venture BMW Brilliance Automotive, the German company said in a press release. The deal will boost the number of cars they produce annually at two facilities in China to 520,000 in 2019.

BMW declined to say how much the output increase will cost. The carmaker last year spent 1 billion euros ($1.2 billion) to lift China capacity to 450,000 vehicles a year from 300,000. About a third of the cars it sold in the country last year were imported, including sport utility vehicles made in the U.S.

BMW’s expansion in the Chinese market follows the imposition by President Donald Trump of a 25 percent additional tariff on $34 billion of Chinese imports including cars -- a move that triggered an immediate response from Beijing. The move by BMW also coincides with plans outlined by China’s April decision to ease foreign-ownership restrictions in the country, with the possibility that foreign automakers could eventually buy out their local partners.

“Our agreement sets a long-term framework for our future in China - a future involving continued investment, further growth and a clear commitment to the development and production of electric vehicles,” BMW CEO Harald Krueger said in the statement. He has previously said the carmaker is considering delivering other Chinese-made cars outside of the country.

BMW’s joint venture with Brilliance produces all of the carmaker’s models sold in China -- including 1,3 and 5-Series cars, as well as the 2-series active tourer and the X1 sports utility vehicle. The company started producing its X3 SUV in China in May and has laid plans for the electric version -- the iX3-- to be produced locally and exported globally starting in 2020.

The BMW agreement was one of dozens signed by German and Chinese companies Monday during a visit by Premier Li Keqiang of China to Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. BASF SE unveiled plans for a $10 billion Chinese chemicals plant, while engineering firm Siemens AG said it would offer its Mindsphere cloud software in mainland China starting in 2019.


President Nominates Kavanaugh to Replace Kennedy

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge in Washington, to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

Trump made the announcement shortly after 9 p.m. ET at the White House, where he was joined by Kavanaugh and his family. NBC News broke the story shortly before the president made his choice public.

"What matters is not a judge's personal views, but whether they can set aside those views to do what the law and the Constitution require," Trump said in the prime-time announcement from the East Room. "I am pleased to say I have found, without doubt, such a person."

"It is my my honor to announce that I will nominate that I will nominate Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court," Trump added.

Kavanaugh then emerged, along with his wife, Ashley, and two young daughters.

Trump praised his nominee as a judge with "impeccable credentials" and said he is "considered a judge’s judge."

Kavanaugh, in his remarks following Trump, thanked the president.

"Throughout this process, I have witness firsthand your appreciation for the vital role of the American judiciary," he told Trump. "No president has ever consulted more widely or talked with more people from more backgrounds to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination."

"I am grateful to you and I am humbled by your confidence in me," he said.

Kavanaugh serves on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which often rules on major challenges to federal laws and policies. If confirmed, he would make the Supreme Court solidly conservative, joining Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch in a potential five-vote majority.

He would be sure to join the conservatives more often than Kennedy, who sometimes voted with the court's liberals in cases raising hot-button social issues.

Reaction from Capitol Hill was swift, with many Democrats — including potential 2020 contenders Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey — announcing their intention to vote against Kavanaugh within minutes of Trump’s announcement.

"Judge Brett Kavanaugh represents a direct and fundamental threat to that promise of equality, and so I will oppose his nomination to the Supreme Court," Harris said.

Booker, citing the integrity of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 race, as well as abortion rights, added, "With all that's at stake, I will fight to stop this nomination every step of the way."


Survey: Doctor Burnout Contributing to Medical Errors

More than half of American doctors are burned out, a new national survey suggests, and those doctors are more likely to make medical mistakes.

The poll asked nearly 6,700 clinic and hospital physicians about medical errors, workplace safety, and symptoms of workplace burnout, fatigue, depression and suicidal thoughts.

More than 10 percent said they had committed at least one significant medical mistake in the three months leading up to the survey, and investigators concluded that those suffering from burnout were twice as likely to make a medical error.

"Burnout is a reversible work-related syndrome characterized by emotional exhaustion and/or cynicism, often featuring decreased effectiveness," explained lead study author Dr. Daniel Tawfik. He is an instructor in pediatric critical care at Stanford University's School of Medicine.

"Although not unique to physicians, it is particularly common in occupations like medicine that feature high levels of stress and intense interactions with people," he said.

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