Lourie, Smith, Bernstein call for probe of recreation commission


I just got this from Joel Lourie:

For Immediate Release
April 13, 2016
Representative James Smith, 803-931-2200
Representative Beth Bernstein, 803-609-1978
Senator Joel Lourie, 803-447-0024

Richland Legislators Call for Investigation of Recreation Commission, and Restructuring of Governance

Three members of the Richland County Legislative Delegation have called on Sheriff Leon Lott to coordinate a special investigation of the Recreation Commission, its director and members of the governing commission. Senator Joel Lourie, along with Representatives James Smith and Beth Bernstein, have asked for this investigation in the wake of media reports by The Nerve today regarding improper activity at the commission. “We have asked Sheriff Lott to coordinate with State and Federal authorities and pursue a thorough investigation of all actions of the director and any commission members that may have violated the law” said Lourie.logo

The legislators will also be filing legislation in their respective bodies to turn oversight of the Recreation Commission over to Richland County Council. “It only makes sense that the body that funds the Richland County Recreation Commission should also be its governing authority. Accountability and transparency are clearly lacking” said Smith.

These actions come after concerns have been raised recently by letters, emails and phone calls to the legislative delegation by various members of the public. “The people of Richland County deserve to know what is going on with their recreation department and it is incumbent among us as public officials to restore the public trust” said Bernstein.

Why would members of the legislative delegation get involved? Because the recreation commission is in no way accountable to country government. It is a Special Purpose District, a creature of the Legislature.

There are at least 500 such mini-governments, created on an ad hoc basis years ago by lawmakers, that are in no way accountable to cities and counties. Most were created before Home Rule was passed in the 1970s — before that, county governments didn’t exist. Local legislative delegations oversaw local government functions.

Well, now we don’t need them. But do they go away? No. Why? Because the public doesn’t know or care that SPDs exist, and the folks who run SPDs don’t want to lose their fiefdoms, so the only people lawmakers hear from are those wanting to keep them.

Another legacy of the Legislative State. Which is why we made a big deal about them in the Power Failure series — 500 redundant, unnecessary, unaccountable little governments. While we’ve seen progress on some things we wrote about in that series, we haven’t on this issue… And it’s been 25 years now.

28 thoughts on “Lourie, Smith, Bernstein call for probe of recreation commission

  1. Doug Ross

    The executive director should be forced to resign or terminated immediately. Every position held by one of his family members should be opened for interviews held by an independent body. Let them try and get the job honestly.

    Election Commission, Penny Tax commission, Recreation Commission… notice any patterns here? Republicans are corrupt individually, Democrats are corrupt collectively.

    1. Doug Ross

      And would it really be that difficult to require any management level government employee or elected official to disclose the names of ANY relatives (children, siblings, spouses, aunts, uncles, parents) working for state or local government? Notice how this guy was following the “rule of law” by having the rules changed so he wouldn’t have to report his nepotism. The Richland County golden rule: He who makes the rules, gets the gold.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        You should go watch this wonderful John Oliver segment about special districts (I had no idea OTHER states had the problem), which includes video in which two district officials hold an official public meeting, pledge allegiance to the flag, then sit down and take the roll — when they are the only two people in the room (except the person behind the camera — if there IS someone behind the camera)!

        As Oliver says, you’ve gotta hand it to them for following the by-laws so scrupulously…

        The bottom line being, the public for the most part doesn’t know these little governments exist, much less show up at their meetings…

        Which is why they continue to exist. Oliver jokes at the beginning of his segment that everyone will probably turn off the TV once he introduces his topic…

        1. Doug Ross

          “As Oliver says, you’ve gotta hand it to them for following the by-laws so scrupulously…”

          Well, we are a nation of laws, not men… right? Laws are important. Laws are what created the special districts. Laws are what maintain an orderly functioning society. So we should do what is right and follow the laws. Make every person his or her own special purpose district…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yes, as long as we have laws, we must obey them.

            The point here, as I’ve been saying all these years, is that the law needs to be changed.

            And you know what that’s going to take? Lots of people like you and other folks here on the blog taking an interest in SPDs and raising hell about them, and demanding that lawmakers do away with them and turn these functions over to local governments. Because as I say, the only people they hear from is the people at the SPDs, who tell them how wonderful they are…

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Once, 10 years or so ago, Cindi and I were asked to address a meeting of the SC Association of SPDs. Talk about going into the lion’s den.

              At least they didn’t get violent. They were polite, even. Of course, I don’t think they felt particularly threatened by a couple of editorial wonks writing about stuff no one seems to care about…

            2. Doug Ross

              This is where you and I disagree about the difference between the public and private sector. In the private sector, the guy in charge would be on the street tomorrow once this was exposed. And there would be checks and balances in place to help prevent it from happening in the first place.

              Sadly, my guess is that he and his family members will receive the Lillian McBride treatment and be shuffled around to other taxpayer funded jobs.

              1. Doug Ross

                Plus we are supposed to have people like Joel Lourie who are our representatives to deal with this. If he can’t get this guy fired, what good is he?

                1. Mark Stewart

                  Last time I checked there were 5 state senators and 12 house members representing various parts of Richland County.

                  There are no checks and balances here. The options are accept these SPE’s, or have the legislature dissolve them. Expecting the legislators to manage these SPE’s is a futile expectation.

                  The legislators either use these political orphans as patronage mills or else they themselves are stymied by the arcane and opaque rules around these and give up to let them further rot in neglect and best forgotten. Oversight isn’t in the cards.

                2. Brad Warthen Post author

                  Well, now you’re pointing to why I’m always agitating for strong executives on the state and local level.

                  Legislative government is by its nature unaccountable, because there is no one person you can point to and say, “Why doesn’t he DO something?”

                  Joel’s doing what he can do, using his semi-bully pulpit to call for an investigation. Neither he nor anyone else on the delegation has the power to fire anybody, to my knowledge.

                  And that’s not the way it should be, as I’ve said over and over and over again…

                3. Brad Warthen Post author

                  SPDs are almost everything Doug thinks government in general is.

                  And that’s why we shouldn’t have them.

                  Well, except in truly special circumstances. Riverbanks Zoo is governed by an SPD, and that makes some sense, since it is cross-jurisdictional — it’s located in two counties, and within two municipalities…

                  But there is no excuse for, say, a fire district that is contained entirely within an existing local government’s area…

                4. Doug Ross

                  The problem is that Lourie (well, not him since he’s a lame duck) has to play these things politically. He has to figure out what connections the director has to other politically connected people that Lourie would have needed in the fall election. Maybe now that he’s not running, maybe he can just ignore the political ramifications of going hard on this. (Hmmm… sort of like what a term limited politician might do).

                  Asking for an investigation is about the LEAST anyone could do. Following up with regular calls for people to be fired would be stepping up.

  2. Doug Ross

    Meanwhile, The State’s web page and Twitter feed make no mention of what should be the most important story in Richland County today. But there ARE tweets this afternoon showing Williams Brice construction, farmers markets, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car, and a local Quidditch tournament. That pretty much says it all. No sense reporting actual NEWS.

  3. Barry

    I wonder why Senator Jackson isn’t calling for an investigation? Has Senator Jackson ever been concerned about any corruption issues in Richland County? Never see his name mentioned unless he’d defending someone neck deep in the abyss.

    Mia McLeod?

    1. Doug Ross

      That was a rhetorical question, right? The answer is right there in front of you in black and white.

      1. Barry

        I know – and it’s very sad- and no newspaper or media entity will touch the issue at all. Typical.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        And how do you suggest they do that, Barry?

        Be the reporter for me: Write the lede, or the first few grafs, of that story. As an editor, I’ll go over it with you and we’ll have a discussion about how much you KNOW and can back up vs. what you INTUIT to be the case.

        As an opinion writer, I can say that Richland County is, at least in pockets here and there (Richland 1, anything overseen by the legislative delegation) something of a haven for black patronage — just as portions of Lexington County, where I live, have elements of redneck patronage, and certain neighborhoods in Boston look out for the Irish, etc.

        And I can also say, with confidence, that a lot of white people in the Midlands resent the heck out of that. So you have, on the one hand, white folks who demand accountability from these black power centers and on the other hand black leaders smoldering with resentment that white folks are condemning them for exercising the kind of power that they at least believe is routinely exercised by white power brokers elsewhere.

        (One of the great ironies is that our expectations of government changed with the arrival of post-Watergate ethics at JUST the moment that black people started getting elected to office for the first time since Reconstruction. So to a lot of black folks, it looks like white folks just got concerned about ethics when black candidates started taking office. Which is true; there just isn’t all that much of a cause-and-effect relationship. Some, probably, but not all that much. I heard a story about how I.S. Leevy Johnson, after helping Jimmy Carter get elected, attended a meeting at which a Carter representative told the assembled loyal supporters that anybody who wanted a job in the new administration would have to get it on merit, that there would be no jobs handed out from smoke-filled rooms. And I.S. said something like, “But we just got into the room, and we just started smoking.”)

        Anyway, I can say those things — not that it’s necessarily all that helpful.

        But it’s pretty difficult to work such intuitive conclusions into a news story — unless you can find a political scientist or someone like that willing to say such things, and have his or her black and white friends in the community read about it…

        1. Doug Ross

          Maybe the “black patronage” theme can’t be the story but there’s no reason why the Richland Recreation Commission story can’t be on the front page and stay there until something happens. In my view, it’s more important than the legal wranglings going on with Alan Wilson / Pascoe (now, when/id the grand jury actually goes after the Quinns, that will be a bigger story).

          There are so many angles just to the Recreation Commission story that COULD be pursued by The State. Don’t reporters do interviews any more? The Nerve has done all the hard investigative work, so why not build on that? Why aren’t we hearing from the Richland County delegation? Every one of them should be asked for comments on this matter and be put on the record. There should be regular updates on what actions are being taken.

          If I were running The State, the picture of the head of the Recreation Commission would be on the front page of Sunday’s paper with an in depth story.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            “Why aren’t we hearing from the Richland County delegation?”

            You mean, aside from Lourie, Smith and Bernstein? Yes, you’re right — all of them should be interviewed.

            All of that is legit. What I was reacting to was the suggestion that media won’t “touch” the “black and white” elements of the story. And I was saying that’s true, but mainly because that stuff is hard to document. You may “know” it, but to what extent can you back it up?

            1. Doug Ross

              I’m not speaking for Barry but I believe his opinion was that The State takes a different approach with black corruption versus white corruption. Maybe it’s not intentional but there is a sense that they don’t want to be perceived as racially motivated so they back off. In this case, the situation warrants a much stronger approach.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Well, if there’s any extra sensitivity there, here’s why: Any black person who is FROM here and is around my age or older has VERY clear memories of The State newspaper being a white newspaper published FOR white people and white people only.

                You should go to the library sometime and read some editorials from the 60s and see how matters bearing on race were dealt with. And then look at the other pages of the paper. See any black brides preparing to get married, or black folks doing anything positive and affirming? Nope. You’ll see quite a few “negroes” committing crimes, though.

                During my time there, I was acutely aware that that was a perception we had not lived down (mainly because it was a LOT to live down). To the extent that the folks in the newsroom are aware of that history, if anything’s going to make them proceed cautiously on matters that black and white readers tend to perceive differently, that would be it…

              2. Barry

                I don’t see it as black or white corruption.

                I have to wonder why Senator Jackson isn’t approached for a statement on this issue. Is he defending them or waiting for more info? He might not answer, but the reporter can state that he was asked and would only say “no comment.

                but not just him- what about John Courson?

                There is no reason not to get everyone on the delegation on record.

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    And in The State’s story this morning we see what we suspected.

    With regard to the most meaningful thing lawmakers could do — relinquish control of the commission — Lourie sees no hope for support from the majority of the delegation:

    Lourie said he plans to introduce legislation that would give County Council members, rather than legislators, the authority to appoint members to the Recreation Commission board. But it would take a majority vote of the Richland County legislative delegation to approve the measure, and Lourie said he isn’t sure that support exists among the majority of the delegation….

    And you can assume the support wouldn’t be there for firing people, either…

    1. Doug Ross

      One could examine the way tax dollars flow in Richland County and describe it as “pseudo reparations”.

    2. Barry

      Firing people?

      Anyone that believes Sen. Jackson would even want to consider firing anyone for something as trivial (to him) as mismanagement, incompetence, or unethical behavior is living in a dream world.

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