The state Department of Natural Resources board will be called to testify under oath about its role in the unexpected departure of agency director John Frampton, a respected wildlife chief whose retirement has produced a torrent of questions.
Unsure about why Frampton is leaving, a Senate wildlife committee agreed Wednesday to require sworn testimony from the agency board member, including chairwoman Caroline Rhodes.
No meeting date has been set, but the session could be held as early as Feb. 1, according to the Fish Game and Forestry Committee, which oversees DNR matters in the Senate.
"There's no replacement for putting (the board) under oath and saying 'Why in the world did you guys push out somebody who was highly successful in that position?",'' Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw said.
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During an emotionally charged agency board meeting last month, Frampton said Rhodes asked him to resign, but she denied it. Frampton leaves in March
Board members never said what their questions were about Frampton, although they indicated concern about travel..
He has traveled across the country on DNR business, but his ability to find private or federal money for the DNR to provide services has been praised by many conservationists, hunters and politicians. Frampton also has drawn high marks for his success in brokering land protection accords, such as the Jocassee Gorges mountain preserve and the Lowcountry's ACE Basin.
Wednesday's action followed a Fish, Game and Forestry Committee staff report that said Rhodes excluded two board members from individual, private discussions about Frampton's leaving. She then led Frampton to believe the board wanted him to leave, according to a letter summarizing the probe. Frampton then resigned. The two board members not included were Frampton boosters.
The staff report said there was no evidence state open records laws were violated since no secret board meeting was held. But the report took Rhodes to task for the way the matter was handled. Committee Chairman Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry, blasted her in a letter Tuesday.
Rhodes said this week she would accept the criticism and try to learn from it. She declined to say if she disagreed with facts presented in the report. She was not immediately available Wednesday for comment.
"Any criticism that has been doled out to me as chairman, I have to accept it and it is duly noted," Rhodes told The State on Tuesday. Asked if she disputed any facts in Cromer’s letter, Rhodes said "it really doesn’t matter. We’re going to move forward. This isn’t about me."
Gov. Nikki Haley elevated Rhodes to the board’s top position after Haley took office in January 2011. The governor’s office has been pushing a more business-friendly agenda, and some worry the DNR could be hurt by a new director and a Haley-chosen board. Rhodes never said why Frampton was asked about leaving.