LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC — Lexington-Richland 5 school board member Kim Murphy skipped a hearing Friday on a residency challenge that could lead to her ouster from the panel.
Murphy left the meeting shortly before it began after her attorney, Todd Kincannon, told school officials the meeting was improper.
“I really hate that she (Murphy) didn’t stay and listen,” said board chairman Robert Gantt, one of five board members to attend the 90-minute hearing.
Kincannon contends any procedure affecting elections must be approved beforehand by federal officials, who police ballots in South Carolina and other Southern states as protection against discrimination.
Murphy’s move is the first skirmish in what may be a protracted battle over an effort to remove her from the post, after state geographers reported last month that her home is in Lexington instead of Richland County.
Board members hired retired Circuit Judge G. Thomas Cooper of Camden to review the situation and recommend if her ouster is merited.
He expects to make a recommendation by mid-March, with the final say up to the school board. If ousted, Murphy can go to court seeking to remain a board member.
State geographers — the only witnesses who testified Friday — told Cooper that borders long accepted by county officials that place Murphy’s home in the Chapin area of Richland County are wrong.
The boundary line is a few blocks northeast of what was assumed, those officials say.
That puts Murphy’s home just inside neighboring Lexington County “without any question,” state demographer Bobby Bowers said.
Sidney Miller, a surveyor who assists Bowers, said local maps of county borders often are “approximate” because of limited expertise.
In addition, legal descriptions of those lines are “not straightforward at all” and require sophisticated measuring skills since many original markers like trees and rocks no longer exist, Miller said.
Bowers said local officials were notified of problems in borders in that area as long ago as 1995. Officials in Richland and Lexington counties say the change was overlooked by predecessors for reasons they can’t explain.
Kincannon declined to explain how Murphy may challenge those findings if the board decides to consider ouster.
The fuss over Murphy is creating new tension in an area whose schools with 16,000 students in Chapin, Irmo, Dutch Fork and Harbison are rated among the best in South Carolina.
Murphy is ignoring calls to step down, saying the residency fuss that erupted Jan. 14 is the latest vendetta by political foes.
To her supporters, Murphy is a crusader against high taxes and waste. To her critics, she is an obstructionist.
The Lexington-Richland 5 school board is composed of three members from Richland County and four from Lexington County. Murphy was elected to a four-year term to represent Richland in November 2010.
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.