RichCo board of elections needs to go away for good

The Richland County Board of Elections and Voter Registration, a useless entity created by the county’s legislative delegation for its own perverse, unknowable reasons, should definitely cease to exist.

The State made that case fairly thoroughly today. An excerpt:

The board has failed repeatedly to act in the public’s best interest. While former director Lillian McBride shoulders much of the blame for the botched election, a preliminary report noted that the board had failed to ask important questions.

After the election fiasco, the board initially refused to acknowledge that it had the power to discipline the director; when the panel finally acknowledged its authority, it refused to remove Ms. McBride. Once Ms. McBride resigned, the board bent over backward — much farther than it should have — to accommodate her, creating a deputy director’s slot that pays $74,600.

When it embarked upon the single most significant task involved in rebuilding public confidence and trust — hiring a credible director — the board blew it. It created a search committee led by a member who had just joined the board. That search committee chairman caused tension by barring a fellow member of the Board of Elections from discussions with candidates; he also played a role in the committee’s refusal to release the names of the three finalists as required by law.

But The State secured the names of the finalists and, through routine checks, discovered problems in each candidate’s work history. As troubling as it is that the candidates failed to reveal the matters, it is also unacceptable that the committee didn’t conduct a thorough enough search to discover them.

When two of the finalists withdrew their names, the only prudent thing to do was to start a new search. Instead, the Board of Elections hired the remaining finalist — Howard Jackson, the Orangeburg County elections director.

Mr. Jackson failed to tell search committee members that he had been investigated in 2008 for election-law violations involving alleged absentee ballot irregularities.

The State Law Enforcement Division found no wrongdoing, but his failure to be upfront about it doesn’t engender trust, which is essential to turning the Richland County office around…

But in case you find The State‘s opprobrium to measured and calm, there’s always Mia McLeod out there to channel our rage, like Key and Peele’s “Obama’s Anger Translator.” She put this release out today:

Since the infamous Richland County Elections fiasco of 2012, the Old Guard (“OG”) has really ramped it up a few notches. Turns out…fiercely protecting and defending incompetence is only a fraction of the skills they’ve acquired during their 6-month tirade.

Who else could take a beyond-botched general election and turn it into a reality-tv scandal in a matter of days? Yeah, the OG is mega-talented, alright. Some parts scripted…some not…but clearly, no shortage of actors or creative content.
And while the OG renders Oscar-worthy performances…it’s Richland County voters who stood in line for 6-8 hours last November, only to be cast as “extras” in this dramatic mini-series.

But sometimes, “extras” stumble onto their “five minutes of fame” and this time was no different because these lucky voters not only got a chance to be disenfranchised one time…they got to experience a 6-month “Exclusion Extravaganza!” And they even get to pay for it.

Brilliant…isn’t it?

In fact, the OG was gracious enough to allow us to take an “after-the-fact” glimpse of behind-the-scenes footage, just so our palates can get a taste (never-mind the smell) of what they’ve crammed down our throats.

Okay, I think we’re ready. Open wide, now…

(Brief pause while we rewind. Please hold your applause until the end).

November 6, 2012 – The biggest voter disenfranchisement in SC history
OG advises Elections Director to “shut-up” and shut it down, while they develop their game plan
Attorney General issues Opinion: County Legislative Delegation has no authority to fire Elections Director, despite hiring her
OG launches aggressive lobbying effort to influence County Elections Commissioners and Council members to not fire Director, while“stacking the deck” with OG Elections Commissioner(s); (new) OG Commissioner appointed; begins serving “officially” the same day
OG controls delegation meetings to appease and deceive the public; stalls for time
Investigative report” reveals the obvious…Director is responsible for Election Day debacle by not deploying enough machines or staffers
OG back room negotiations continue, to protect & insulate Director
Elections Director prematurely announces resignation (through attorney) to Legislative Delegation during executive session; delegation member publicly discloses the impending resignation too soon; director reneges until OG finalizes her “deal”
OG successfully secures contractual agreement for Director, who is publicly “demoted” and privately promoted to a newly created taxpayer-funded position
OG appoints Interim Director; pays him big money to carry out “master plan”; names “Search Committee” for new Director; stacks deck with OG members to ensure desired results
OG repeatedly refuses to acknowledge or accept meeting requests by delegation members to discuss critical elections issues
Seventeen applications received and “screened” by the Search Committee; three applicants meet eligibility requirements; two of three finalists “mysteriously” withdraw their names in the final hours
OG announces to the public and delegation on May 15th, that remaining finalist is new director and proudly welcomes yet another “Jackson” into the fold; trio (Delegation Chair, Councilman, Elections Director) is complete
OG schedules first delegation meeting of 2013 for June 4th (2 days before session ends), after critical elections decisions have been made

So with all due respect to the new Richland County Elections Director, because the OG has consistently and calculatedly closed the process to the public, his hiring and everything associated with it, looks and smells… shady. Why not reopen (or open) the process to new applicants instead of choosing one by default?

Quite frankly, it’s the “stench” of the last six months that makes so many of us turn up our noses in disbelief and disgust. So even if Mr. Jackson is the best Elections Director this county has ever seen (and he very well could be…) the OG has gone out of its way to present him on a filthy garbage can lid instead of the fine China that might’ve been a much more fitting and flattering accompaniment.

And once again, Richland County residents are the forsaken, forgotten ones. But, it’s not Mr. Jackson that we loathe. It’s the process and the “platter” upon which he was presented.

Closed-door meetings. Back-room deals. Lies. Cover-ups.

What else could we possibly need to restore public trust? This scandal leaves Richland County voters with uncounted ballots and a $153,000 bill. How could we not have confidence in a process that obviously works? Bravo, OG!

Perhaps Mr. Jackson will find his role in the sequel because in 2014 and 2016, the curtain rises again. Only this time, the “extras” are gonna make their debut…center stage. And the OG’s season finale will hopefully bring its tumultuous reign to an end.

Now, that episode will be one worth watching. Stay tuned…

38 thoughts on “RichCo board of elections needs to go away for good

  1. doug ross

    Where are the actual NAMES of the people who are responsible for this travesty? It’s not the fault of some anonymous board. It is specific people. Name them and shame the them if you want change.

      1. Doug Ross

        I want to see a headline in The State that says “Darrell Jackson Screws Richland County AGAIN”.

        They need their names in headlines every day until they are gone.

        1. Doug Ross

          And The State editorial doesn’t mention a single name of a person on the board. How are voters supposed to get the culprits out if the local newspaper won’t hold PEOPLE responsible?

          Maybe because Warren Bolton is too chummy with too many of the people involved?

        2. Kathryn Fenner

          They can’t run the names every day because they are too busy with mindless sports and human interest stories. I mean we really need to know that over at the airport some guy has erected some pitiful looking monuments to WW II fighter pilots who died….

  2. Silence

    I, for one, am fully confident that elections will be conducted in a fair, transparent and impartial manner.

  3. Silence

    If people really wanted to change the Richland County elections commission, and the ripoff that was the last election, they should start doing all of their shopping outside Richland County. It’s never very far to Lexington, Sumter, Kershaw, or Fairfield County, and I’m sure that their businesses would appreciate the sales. A massive drop in business revenue and the associated sales taxes woudl be the quickest way to focus some attention on the problem.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Huh? You realize that the legislative delegation has control, more or less, of the Elections Board? Why hurt County Council? The leg del doesn’t particularly care about county revenues.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And again, there is the total disconnect from accountability that results from the bizarre way South Carolina is governed.

      Remember, NO ONE associated with the delivery of local services in Richland County, and NO ONE whose salary is paid by local taxes, is empowered to deal with this problem.

      Only the legislative delegation can do away with this absurd board and replace it with a rational governance system — such as turning the elections office over to the county council, a body that would actually care if county revenues dropped.

      1. Silence

        If tax revenues dropped, county council would care, and they’d get the LD to care. If business revenues dropped, I am 100% positive that the LD would hear about it, and would start caring very quickly. Anyways, the county/city administrations were complicit in the heist, not just the legislature.

        1. Mark Stewart

          It would be poor form to oppose a preacher before his fall? Sorry, Mia, need to lay the groundwork first.

  4. Silence

    The county doesn’t have to pay for Ms. McBride’s legal bills. I think they also cut the checks for the elections commission. They could always stop paying them, kick them out of their offices at 2020 Hampton, or shut off the power. The way that the legislature is playing, I’d think that these moves would be fair game.

  5. susanincola

    Interesting question. What would happen if RCC just stopped paying the bills for the election commission?

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    Off topic, but the One Columbia logo looks confusingly like the Purina One logo….

    1. Silence

      Ever since this “One Columbia” crapola started up, I have found City Council’s actions to be particularly divisive. There’s two Columbias, one for insiders (Council Members, former Police Chiefs, prominent folks who own “historic” buildings) and another Columbia for the rest of us who are regular taxpayers.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Get involved if you want a voice. People who kibbitz on blogs get ignored.

        1. Silence

          Kathryn – In real life, I’m about as involved as I can be. There’s only so many hours in a day. I can both be involved and bitch on this blog.

          1. Silence

            I’m im my second full term on one publicly appointed board. I am on the executive board of a local 501(c)(3). I am on my neighborhood association board, and served two terms as president. I was on another local nonprofit board until my family situation changed and I needed to back off a bit. Which old familiar places are you attending?

            I work out of town (as you know) and my spouse works long hours, so I end up single parenting many evenings as well. You know my name, check my LinkedIn profile. I stay pretty busy. I also have probably pissed off city council enough that I couldn’t get appointed Dog Catcher….

          2. Doug Ross

            I would guess that some of the biggest complainers on this blog are also very actively involved.

            I was a PTO President for two years, taught Sunday School for four years, worked the monthly homeless feeding at First Baptist Church for several years, and ran for school board in Richland 2 in 2002 (I put my time and money where my mouth was). Also served on my homeowners association board for two years. And I chaperoned numerous school field trips lasting anywhere from a day to a week (and was not one of those parents who just goes along to spend buddy time with his kids). Coached high school basketball as well as eight year old girls basketball.

            We all have our own circles we run in…

  7. Kathryn Fenner

    Sitting on boards is nice, but they meet maybe once a month? Sit through City Council meetings with an open mind. A lot of it is foolishness and windbaggery, but you do start to appreciate qualitative differences in the players. Everyone isn’t an idiot, even if you disagree with their stance. Everyone isn’t just out for himself.

    1. Silence

      I’ve sat through my share of city council meetings and work sessions. The work sessions are during the workday, so they require using vacation leave. That’s a powerful disincentive towards attending. I think you’ve been involved with your neighborhood association – leading one can take up a lot of time, I figure i put in about 20 hours a week doing that. I’ve sat through numerous DDRC, BoZA and PC meetings, also all during the work day.
      Local civic engagement is really designed to limit citizen participation – it’s for the unemployed, retired, or well connected, and that’s to everyone’s detriment.

  8. Mark Stewart

    Looks like Randy Scott has been knocked off as local chief poster child for abuse of public funds for personal gain, according to The State.

    Nice of the Richland County Elections Commission to hire such a scammer. I don’t knock his entrepreneurial spirit, but he needs to find a way to do it off the public dole. Given the degrees this projected elections director has gone to obscure his “home renovation” activities (which, surprisingly, weren’t also wrapped in religious affiliation), it would appear to not be a stretch at all to conclude he is unfit for public office of any sort. And that the Richland County Delegation has proposed such a director is an absolute and complete shocker. Really. No, not really.

    This is a clear case of leading by example, from the Senate on down.

    Corruption in public office is the most serious issue facing South Carolina by far. No one seems willing to acknowledge just how rotten so many of the public institutions are. I don’t mean “have become”, I mean have simply always been. That is the fault of the voters, who ask nothing of their elected leaders – and haven’t ever enforced accountability and public trust. Of course, the rules of proceedure have also been stacked in favor of the corrupt as well. This is a case of two strikes and you are out. All y’all are out a future. And so are our children and their children; so long as this malfeasance in office is not stopped.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      Randy Scott never abused public funds for personal gain. He took advantage of what was available to him.

      He worked his butt off and a bonus would not have been at all out of line!

      1. Doug Ross

        We don’t know the whole story about Randy Scott. If 1/10 of the rumors are true, he was doing a lot more than just taking advantage of what was available to him.

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Eva Moore tracked down the biggest rumors, and reported that they were baseless.

          1. Doug Ross

            So it was just a two week PTSD that caused him to give up his career? OOOOOKKKAYY…

  9. Mark Stewart

    But Kathryn, you also say that Steve Gantt is a good guy. But clearly, he is the one most responsible for the boondoggle that was Randy Scott’s slush fund. There is simply no defense of the “retirement” that was singly handed to Chief Scott under the murkiest of circumstances.

    This whole sorry episode is yet another example of the brazen disregard for the public trust that is so often shown within the political establishment.

    Friend of yours or not, Randy Scott owes the public far more than he has given so far. Personally, I believe that he does not deserve to be allowed to slink away into the sunset without explanation from himself, from the City of Columbia or from the press. Frankly, both of the first two owe it to the public. Corruption such as this should not be tolerated by anyone. That is the bottom line.

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