A contractor at the Rincon Golf Course whose criminal history fills the gap of his lacking contract for services with the city was the center of controversy at the most recent Rincon City Council meeting.
During Monday’s city council meeting, department heads presented monthly reports to council, permitting elected officials and the public to ask questions pertaining to those matters.
Citizen Laurie Eichmann followed the brief update from Rincon Golf Course Manager Bryan Bessinger. Eichmann mentioned her comments at the previous city council meeting during which time she asked about the background check of the superintendent of the golf course, Jim Watkins. Eichmann said the conversation and her questions were available on the livestream, but when people went back to watch later after the stream ended, the audio of her inquiries was edited out. City Clerk Dulcia King told Eichman the issue was technology and internet-related and not deliberate. Eichmann, seemingly skeptical of King’s response, told council that that was an edit of public record.
Newly-sworn city councilman Kevin Exley said he also saw where the comments and questions were deleted off of Facebook. He went on to say that instead of possibly hiring a PR firm to improve the city’s image, as some have suggested, the best PR would be simply “to be transparent….Our job is to answer tough questions.”
Watkins Hired as a Contractor Without a Contract
Councilman Exley then addressed the bigger issue of Watkins’ work at the golf course. He said Watkins was hired in June of last year  and was “working off of a time card with no contract.”
“How does he even come here and get hired with no contract?” Exley asked. “We paid this gentleman $90,000 between June of last year and right now…This guy got paid $46,000 the first six months he was here and never, ever had a contract. I don’t know whether he had worker’s comp. I don’t know whether he had general liability. I’m not sure. But I don’t think that anybody sitting up here has the right to put somebody on board without a bid.”
Watkins’ services to the city were not formally approved by city officials until December 12, 2022, approximately six months after his work began. Despite the approval last year, however, there is still no formal contract in place.
Exley then stated that it was ‘verified’ that Watkins’ work was ‘set up by someone up here,’ referring to the council bench. Exley echoed that there was no Request for Proposal
(RFP) on the work and there should have been one.
Citizen Tim Miller asked who did approve the work, without council approval, by email, to which Exley replied, “The mayor approved that.”
Not a ‘City Employee’ but Uses a City Time Clock
City attorney Raymond Dickey told the angered citizens that there is no process in place for contractors with the city to be screened prior to their work starting, but that council can institute such a process if they wish.
Laurie Eichmann then lamented to council that it wasn’t a business that had the non-existent contract with Watkins, but that he, as an individual, was being paid directly with city funds and that presented another issue.
“Why are we paying him on a time clock?” Eichmann’s husband asked. “That sounds like an employee. Not a contractor. A contractor is “Hey, I’m gonna do A, B, C, and D for $75,000 throughout the year. A contractor doesn’t hit a time clock. His workers might hit a time clock. But he shouldn’t be hitting the city time clock.”
“The contractor said he did not want to be a city employee. Well, he obviously didn’t want to be a city employee, guys, because he knew what his record looked like,” Exley said. “And I’m surprised that nobody went back and verified that information that was brought to everybody’s attention because that’s embarrassing.”
Councilman Exley asked that the city verify ‘what happened’ with Watkins and what the situation is with regard to his background.
Criminal History of Watkins
So what did happen with Watkins in Florida?
According to both news reports and official court documents, all of which are public record, Watkins solicited an individual to murder his brother in 2011. The dispute stemmed from a legal battle over their parents’ estate, but the supposed hit man hired by Watkins – for upwards of $80,000 to $100,000, ended up being an undercover police officer.
From a news article on the case:
“Among the evidence police say they collected are recorded tapes and a packet given to an alleged “hit man” in December that contained pictures of the victim, the victim’s house and the victim’s vehicle. Additionally, the packet contained a piece of paper detailing the victim’s address and a brochure for a Charleston-area hotel.”
In 2014, Watkins was convicted and ordered to serve up to five years in prison, with credit for the 1,279 days he’d served. He was ordered to then serve time on probation, barred from consuming alcohol and drugs, as ordered not to have contact with his brother, and ordered to pay a fine of $517. His probation sentence ends in June of 2030.
Official court transcript (story continues below)
The issue for several in the room is the close proximity with which golf course employees and contractors work and interact with students and other children at the facility. Citizen Tim Miller asked how Watkins was hired in the first place. Miller said he lives in a neighboring subdivision to the golf course. “My grandkids play in our backyard. I personally had a run in with our association with the gentleman that we’re talking about…why is that man working in our community? Why?”
Mayor Ken Lee replied that when Eichmann brough the conviction to the attention of mayor and council, that was ‘the first we had known or ever heard about that.”
“So, on record, you’re saying that you knew nothing about this gentleman’s background?” Miller asked.
“That’s correct,” the mayor replied. He said the city manager was ‘taking steps’ to address the issue.
“This isn’t the end of this, by the way,” Miller said. ”At all.”
At that point, Councilwoman Michelle Taylor attempted to redirect the conversation to the updates made on the course in recent weeks. With Golf Course Manger Bryan Bessinger at the podium, she highlighted some changes via a powerpoint and shared that the city is very proud of the upgrades and progress being made at the golf course.
Bessinger, who had excused himself during the previous conversation and walked outside, apologized for leaving the meeting but said everything has been ‘very hard’ because of the ongoing drama.
The conversation then returned to Watkins and his criminal history.
Councilman Patrick Kirkland said after he found out about the claims made about Watkins, he asked City Manager Jonathan Lynn to do some research and he “did find something on him and he [the city manager] did say the chief [of police] was gonna kinda brief us on that. I have not been briefed on that and that is why I’ve kind of kept my mouth closed until I hear something until I can verify it.”
Chief Jonathan Murrell approached the podium to answer any questions the council had, to which Kirkland asked, ‘What is it?’ Kirkland said he didn’t understand what was shown to him by the city manager.
Murrell explained that he was asked by the city manager to review a document on Watkins, which he did. Murrell also said the documents provided were public record from the Clerk of Court in Broward County, Florida and were official transcripts of the case. He said the documents included details on the charges, the conviction, and the sentence, all of which was time-stamped as ‘filed’ as the official court record.
Someone from the audience asked the chief, after his briefing, if it was safe for Watkins to be on the golf course, at which point Mayor Lee interjected and said that was what the city manager was in the process of addressing. The same person suggested that the chief of police would be the ‘subject matter expert’ over the city manager.
Councilman Kirkland then said, “Well, I found out on Friday that he [Watkins] absolutely has a felony and I was waiting on somebody to tell me what can be done about it, and if that’s the case, I would think he needs to be terminated or moved or whatever. Immediately. That’s my opinion. I went by on Friday and that’s what he [city manager] shared with me and I feel like he needs to go.”
Council ultimately went into executive session, though they did not state on the record for what purpose executive session was warranted in accordance with the law, and no official action, on personnel or any other matter, was taken after executive session other than to adjourn the meeting.
At 2:30 PM on Tuesday, September 26, the city posted this statement: