Well over half of the Richland County Legislative delegation today called on five members of the Richland County Recreation Commission to resign because of multiple incidents of malfeasance.
The 10 lawmakers demanding accountability are:
- Sen. John Courson
- Sen. Joel Lourie
- Sen. Thomas McElveen
- Rep. Nathan Ballentine
- Rep. Beth Bernstein
- Rep. Mary Gail Douglas
- Rep. Kirkman Finlay
- Rep. Joe McEachern
- Rep. Mia McLeod
- Rep. James Smith
Six of the 10 who signed the letter demanding the resignations — Lourie, Ballentine, Bernstein, Finlay, McEachern and Smith — appeared and spoke at a press conference at the State House this morning. Sen. Lourie was the chief spokesman, beginning and ending the prepared presentation.
The group emphasized that what they are doing is independent of investigations into alleged criminal wrongdoing. They said five of the seven commission members should resign immediately because of the following “acts of malfeasance:”
- “Disregarded the hostile work environment for employees.”
- “Blatant abuses of nepotism.”
- “Approval of irresponsible compensation.”
- “Multiple allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct.”
- “Lack of effective oversight.”
- “Excessive litigation and costs.”
The five commissioners the lawmakers said should resign are:
- J. Marie Green, Chair
- Barbara Mickens, Vice Chair
- Weston A Furgess Jr., Secretary
- George D. Martin Jr.
- Joseph B. Weeks
The lawmakers also shared some information they had FOIed from the commission. One of the highlights of that was a spreadsheet showing the salaries of the 11 commission employees who make more than $50,000.
Seven of those 11 are named “Brown.”
With a recent raise of more than $30,000, the executive director, James Brown III, is currently making $151,800. He’s still receiving that salary even though he is on “voluntary” leave in response to the ongoing scandals centered around him.
Nice non-work if you can get it, huh? OK, back to the news.
The legislators also released figures showing that Brown is paid far more than other county recreation chiefs across the state. Of the big-county salaries listed, only one other was as high as six figures — that was the Greenville County director, with a mean salary of $131,520.
“Clearly, we have an unaccountable board, with no oversight,” said Sen. Lourie. “I regret that we didn’t step in earlier.”
Other points from the presser:
- Rep. Smith said of the five commissioners, “This can only end in their resignations,” implying that there were avenues for removing any who don’t quit on their own. He wasn’t specific about how that might be done. But he served notice that today’s presser is not a one-time thing, that the pressure will continue until the problem commissioners are gone. Their offense is that they have been “serving themselves first, serving Mr. Brown and his family first,” at the expense of serving the public.
- Rep. McEachern — the only African-American member present (which wouldn’t be relevant except for the way some other lawmakers have injected race into the issue) — spoke in particular of the way the commission has failed conscientious employees who have dared to speak up. “Instead of getting a hearing, they get punished.” This, he said, is “a structure that has failed.” Amen to that (I say as one who has called for doing away with such Special Purpose Districts for a quarter of a century now).
- Nathan Ballentine noted something that I hadn’t realized. He said none of those present are members of the nominations committee that gets to nominate commission members (who are then appointed by the governor, technically). “The group behind me and others have not been allowed in the process.” (Rep. Jimmy Bales chairs the nominating committee; I’ll try to get the names of the others.)
- Kirkman Finlay said the commission spent $35,000 of taxpayers’ money paying attorneys to do a study of the commission and its problems — then refused to release the study, and voted 5-2 to ignore its findings.
- Beth Bernstein said she had an additional beef with the commissioners “as a woman and as a mother of two daughters.” She was speaking of the sexual harassment complaints that the commission has ignored.
More as I have it. I’m working on getting PDFs of the documents released today. If nothing else, I’ll scan them at home tonight…
Below are pictures of the five commissioners the lawmakers want to resign: