SC Senate leader rejects probe of Gov. Haley’s office

ashain@thestate.comMay 2, 2014 

Democratic candidate for governor Vincent Sheheen will not get the investigation that he sought into whether the governor’s office interfered with a Senate probe into allegations of misconduct at the S.C. Department of Social Services.

Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, who received Sheheen’s request, said Friday that another investigation would be “duplicative” to the ongoing Senate investigation into Social Services.

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s office had said Sheheen’s request was election-year politics. Sheheen, D-Kershaw, and Haley meet in November in a rematch of their 2010 governor’s race.

Courson said he trusts state Sen. Tom Young, the head of the current Senate panel looking into Social Services, to keep that investigation on course. The Aiken Republican has said no one from the governor’s office has tried to interfere with that panel’s hearings.

Sheheen asked for the probe after another member of that panel — state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington — said she was summoned to Haley’s office to speak with her two staffers in January, soon after the hearings began. The staffers said the hearings “looked embarrassing,” Shealy said, adding they did not ask her to do anything. Shealy said Thursday that she did not think another investigation was necessary.

Courson said Shealy’s remarks weighed into his decision as did conversations with Young and state Sen. William O’Dell, the Abbeville Republican who heads the committee that will receive the Social Services report.

“I respect (Courson’s) position, and hope that the Senate will look into the abuse of power by Gov. Haley and her staff in the future,” Sheheen said Friday. “Bottom line is: We want these matters looked into whatever way is appropriate.”

The Senate’s Social Services panel convened this year after a series of high-profile deaths of children who had involvement with the state’s child-welfare agency, which reports directly to Haley. Current and former agency employees have testified since January along with coroners and officials with social service groups.

Haley appointed Social Services director Lillian Koller, whose management of the agency has been at the center of Senate hearings. Several senators, including Democrat Sheheen and Republican Shealy, have asked Haley to remove Koller, citing the number of children who died who had some involvement with the agency.

Petition gubernatorial candidate Tom Ervin also has called for Koller’s ouster and wanted an investigation into whether Haley and her office interfered with the Senate panel.

“Of course, it’s politics,” said Ervin, who dropped out of the Republican primary to run as an independent on the November ballot. “It’s about the governor’s failure to lead. It goes directly to protecting the most vulnerable children in our state. ... Haley has blood on her hands.”

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