The Richland County Recreation Commission’s embattled executive director and five board members “who support him” should quit, a Richland County legislator said Monday.
State Rep. Mia McLeod said the resignations are necessary for the commission to regain the public’s trust amid ongoing state and federal law enforcement investigations into corruption at the office, and given civil lawsuits accusing director James Brown III of sexual harassment and other improper behavior.
Brown has denied any wrongdoing.
The Richland Democrat also announced she will push to give Richland County lawmakers the power to fire Recreation Commission board members if she is elected to the state Senate this November.
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“Whether true or not, the perception is that this commission recklessly disregards the public’s interest and concerns and wreaks havoc on employees who are simply trying to do their jobs free from threats, harassment, intimidation and retaliation,” said McLeod, who stood alone at her press conference but said a “majority” of the Richland County State House delegation agrees.
The delegation now nominates members of the Recreation Commission, which is funded by the county.
The five board members McLeod asked to resign are board chair J. Marie Green and vice chair Barbara Mickens, both also named as defendants in civil lawsuits; board secretary Weston Furgess Jr.; George Martin Jr.; and Joseph Weeks.
The two remaining board members — Thomas Clark and Wilbert Lewis — have been more critical of Brown.
“If every allegation, rumor or innuendo proves to not be true, this recreation director and the commissioners who support him will still be operating under a cloud of suspicion, facing a disheartened and frustrated public that simply has lost faith and trust in their ability to govern and guide this agency into the future,” McLeod said.
McLeod’s stance is not unprecedented. She and other members of the county’s State House delegation demanded former Richland County elections director Lillian McBride resign after the 2012 election fiasco.
Outgoing state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, applauded McLeod’s stand Monday, calling her “part of a growing majority on this delegation that feels like change needs to take place immediately.”
But that sentiment is not unanimous. The delegation for months has been split on how to handle the ongoing turmoil at the recreation agency.
More than half of the legislators, including Lourie and now McLeod, publicly have questioned the board’s response to the allegations. But some members, including delegation chair Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, have said legislators should stay clear of the matter until law enforcement investigations are complete.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, who also is board vice chair Mickens’ attorney, said Monday “it’s premature to ask for anyone’s resignation until the results of the investigation come back.”
McLeod expressed frustration at legislators’ inability to make immediate changes. She said she would pre-file a bill for the upcoming legislative session to give Richland County legislators the power to remove or suspend members of county commissions.
Under state law, that power currently resides with S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, who appoints commission members on the recommendation of Richland County legislators.
State Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, said he agrees that Brown and the five commission members should resign.
But delegation members have not approached the Republican governor with a recommendation to remove the board members and director, he said.
Smith said commission board members will have “more than adequate time to do the right thing here before we take the next step.”