LEXINGTON COUNTY, SC — Kim Murphys opposition to school improvements laid the groundwork for her possible ouster as a member of the Lexington-Richland 5 School Board, supporters and opponents say.
Her persistent efforts to block parts of a package approved by voters in 2008 prompted its supporters to scrutinize whether her home is in Richland County as long accepted.
Their search uncovered little-noticed maps showing borders that state geographers say put her residence just inside adjoining Lexington County.
That difference in location is important.
It would make her ineligible to remain in the post to which she was elected in November 2010 as one of three board members from Richland County.
Other board members initially dismissed the discovery of the discrepancy two years ago, since tax map lines whose accuracy is now in question put her in Richland County, those who looked into the situation say.
I screamed this up and down, said Scott Murray of Chapin, a supporter of Murphys political opponents. They were convinced she was OK, that she was in Richland.
Murray, a computer software writer, says he discovered the variances in borders while doing research online and pressed school leaders to review his findings.
Todd Kincannon, Murphys lawyer, has no quarrel with the examination of her residency. Doing that is not dirty politics, he said.
Murray said he thought about raising the issue in 2010 to try to remove Murphy from the ballot. Im not a legal guy, he said. I backed off.
A wave of outpouring then from Tea Party sympathizers who liked Murphys criticism of school taxes and spending helped push her to victory at the ballot.
But her persistent questioning of the need and cost of new schools and renovations amid enrollment fluctuation made her a lightning rod politically.
Murphys unsuccessful legal battle that delayed renovations at Chapin High for 18 months also infuriated students and their families.
Shes brought much of it on herself, board chairman Robert Gantt said. There are people looking and watching.
Murray suspects but isnt certain that the findings he gave Gantt sparked Murphys residency question. Murray has supported Gantts candidacy in the past.
The residency questions surfaced anew last fall, when Gantt said a very emphatic discussion with someone he wont identify convinced him that county borders surrounding Murphys home might be different than presumed.
Tax maps most of them developed in the 1970s without modern map-making equipment used by Richland County put Murphys home in the Chapin area just inside its border.
But state geographers say the border is a few blocks east, putting her in Lexington County.
That matches the conclusion of Lexington County election and federal census officials.
Lexington County tax maps also put her residence there. But its tax bill is for a slice of the site that doesnt include her home, records show.
Richland County election officials who said she is eligible to run for the board in their area rely on tax map lines now in question.
Its clear Murphy is the victim of a mistake, Kincannon said. She did nothing wrong, he said. She relied on what officials told her.
Murphy has called questions about her residency a vendetta by political foes, a description Gantt says is wrong.
Theyre trying to squelch any opposition, said Ed Yates, a Murphy ally who ran unsuccessfully for the board last fall. They want it all their way.
But critics call her an obstructionist who, as business executive Albert Bueno, puts it, is a distraction for our schools.
Board members await a recommendation from retired circuit judge G. Thomas Cooper of Camden, appointed to review the situation and recommend if ouster is warranted.
So far, Murphy has resisted suggestions she resign, saying, Im just holding my ground.
Meanwhile, Murray is happy with the facelift under way in classrooms with more than 16,000 students in Chapin, Irmo, Dutch Fork, St. Andrews and Harbison that are rated among the best in South Carolina.
Our outdated and overcrowded schools, he said, are finally getting what they need.
Reach Flach at (803) 771-8483.