Once the poster child for nepotism, the Richland County Recreation Commission has adopted new rules that tighten relatives from being hired or working directly for each other.
Still, four relatives of controversial former director James Brown III remain employees of the recreation agency.
As the first new reform by a reconstituted commission, the new policy falls short of clearly applying to commissioners themselves, a state lawmaker said Tuesday, the day after commissioners adopted the new rules.
“I’m encouraged by (the new policy), but it needs to include the commission itself,” Richland County legislative delegation chairman James Smith, D-Richland, said.
“It should be a B-plus in content and effort,” Smith said of the changes that bar relatives hiring or supervising relatives. “But we’ve got to close the loop on that. Overall, it’s a step in the right direction.”
The commission has been dogged by complaints that ex-director James Brown III had hired six relatives. Brown’s daughter and three nieces still work there, but have cleared the new nepotism test, said interim director Tara Dickerson.
Three relatives of former commission chairwoman J. Marie Green and two relatives of ex-commissioner Barbara Mickens also have worked at the 160-worker agency that oversees 40 recreation facilities as well as youth and adult programs.
Dickerson said Tuesday she believes the new language in the policy applies to commissioners because they, too, must fill out a nepotism disclosure form.
“We feel like that’s adequate and sufficient,” Dickerson said of the new policy. “If it ever becomes an issue (about commissioners) we could certainly revise the policy. This policy is going to correct some of the things in the agency that have happened in the past.”
Critics say that Brown and the former commission ran a rogue operation that ignored the former nepotism policy and turned a blind eye to Brown’s misdeeds. Allegations include public corruption and mismanagement.
Brown retired in November, about a month after he was indicted on charges of misconduct and sexual exploitation of female employees. Later, Brown was accused of witness intimidation.
Six new commissioners were appointed earlier this year after a majority of the former members, including Green and Mickens, were removed by then-Gov. Nikki Haley or they stepped down.
New commissioner Cynthia Shepard said she hopes the revised rules will help lift the cloud over the agency.
“We would like to not have that be part of our day-to-day operation,” she said of nepotism, which is favoritism in decisions on hiring, salaries and promotions. “We want to be like any other organization.”
The new rules are not an absolute bar to the agency hiring people who are related, said Shepard, who proposed the change earlier this year. The form asks employees and applicants to disclose any family ties to other employees. The ban would apply only to employees under the supervision of a relative.
The policy enforcer is to be the agency’s chief of staff, the job Dickerson holds while doubling as temporary director. The deadline for applying for that post is July 31, she said.
It’s likely the new rules will be amended to move that responsibility to the new director, Dickerson said.
Dickerson and the agency’s personnel director, David Stringer, said two commissioners have submitted their form and the rest are to follow quickly.
While Brown was director, the salaries paid to him and his six relatives exceeded $300,000 yearly, according to payroll data obtained by The State newspaper.
Those records also show that Brown’s daughter and three nieces remain employed. The best paid of the remaining relatives is daughter Tiffani Brown, who manages an agency technology center, which offers computer education classes.
She is paid between $43,000 and $49,999 annually, according to figures the agency released because of the newspaper’s open-records request. Under state law, exact salaries of public employees must be disclosed only if they are paid at least $50,000.
Three nieces are seasonal or part-time workers. Jewell Brown is a summer camp site manager with a salary that ranges from $14,000 to $17,999, the data indicate.
Nieces Jada Brown and Janai Brown, who are college students, are paid up to $4,000 as summer counselors. They were hired on the same day in June 2015 – about 18 months before their uncle stepped down, according to the records.
The former director’s son, James A. Brown, once earned $70,000 yearly as director of recreation. The son was fired in late November about two weeks after his father’s Nov. 14 retirement from his $151,800 job. The son was charged with drug trafficking in May 2016.
Jeff Brown, the ex-director’s brother, was fired in May from his job as site manager of the Adult Activity Center on Parklane Road. He was paid between $47,000 and $49,999.
The Browns’ ties
Seven members of the family worked at the Richland County Recreation Commission while James Brown III was its director. Here’s a breakdown of their jobs, salaries and employment dates.
▪ Ex-director James Brown III; salary $151,800; hired July 31, 989; retired Nov. 14, 2016.
▪ Ex-director of recreation, James A. Brown/director’s son; salary $70,000; hired Aug. 5, 2002; fired Nov. 27, 2016.
▪ Ex-manager of Adult Activity Center, Jeff Brown/director’s brother; salary $47,000 to $49,999; hired March 19, 2010; fired May 19, 2017.
▪ Technology center manager, Tiffani Brown/daughter; salary $43,000 to $45,900; hired June 12, 2011; currently employed.
▪ Summer camp site manager, Jewell Brown/niece; salary $14,000 to $17,999; hired June 7, 2010; currently employed.
▪ Summer camp counselor, Jada Brown/niece; salary up to $4,000; hired June 4, 2015; a college student who is currently a seasonal employee.
▪ Summer camp counselor, Janai Brown/niece, salary up to $4,000; hired June 4, 2015; a college student who is currently a seasonal employee.
SOURCE: Richland County Recreation Commission records