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SC governor requests documents from embattled Recreation Commission

FILE: S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley addresses the crowd during the South Carolina Republican state convention at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center in Columbia.
FILE: S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley addresses the crowd during the South Carolina Republican state convention at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center in Columbia. online@thestate.com

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday asked the embattled Richland County Recreation Commission’s board members for documents that could verify whether she has cause to remove some of them from office.

In a letter to the board, the Republican governor acknowledged S.C. state law gives her the power to remove county officers she deems “guilty of malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetency, absenteeism, conflicts of interest, misconduct, persistent neglect of duty in office, or incapacity.”

She also noted 10 of 17 members of the Richland County legislative delegation have asked her to remove five members of the commission’s board.

Legislators have accused those board members of engaging in nepotism, ignoring complaints of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment, approving irresponsible pay for former commission director James Brown III and incurring excessive litigation costs, among other grievances.

Haley said she met with the county delegation on Oct. 3 and 4. Then, on Oct. 18 she received a letter from the five board members addressing the allegations, Haley said.

Haley has asked the delegation for more information that could inform her next move, including:

▪  A copy of the investigation of a Dec. 9, 2015, complaint alleging sexual harassment by former director Brown. Legislators earlier had requested the same report, but board members had declined to surrender it, citing attorney-client privilege. Haley’s letter argued the report would not be subject to that privilege.

▪  Paperwork related to the hiring of and raises for relatives of Brown, board commissioner J. Marie Green and other board members.

▪  Copies of written complaints the board has received regarding Brown from employees or former employees since December 2015.

▪  A copy of Brown’s $151,800-per-year contract and information the board reviewed in order to determine the raise from $110,000 was appropriate.

“We appreciate the governor’s due diligence and her understanding of the serious and complicated nature of this issue,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, one of the lawmakers who has asked for Haley’s help removing the board members. “Her request is reasonable and we hope the commission will respond with the appropriate information so that Gov. Haley can make a decision and this matter can be resolved.”

The Wednesday letter marked Haley’s first public involvement in the turmoil at the Recreation Commission.

Richland County legislators have complained that under state law, they can nominate board members for appointment but not remove them.

Haley said in the letter she has asked the delegation to pass legislation giving themselves the power to remove local county commissioners.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

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