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Haley fires 2 Richland Recreation Commission board members

jmonk@thestate.com

Two of the remaining three members of the embattled Richland County Recreation Commission have been fired by Gov. Nikki Haley.

Chairwoman J. Marie Green and vice chair Barbara Mickens were removed from office Wednesday in an unusual move by an S.C. governor. A panel of lawyers made the recommendation to the governor after the board members defended themselves last month during a hearing.

Board member Thomas Clark is allowed to continue to serve for the remainder of his appointed term.

The other four board members – Weston Furgess Jr., Wilbert Lewis, George Martin and Joseph Weeks – voluntarily resigned earlier after Haley said she would consider firing them.

In her order issued Wednesday, Haley said she found Green and Mickens guilty of neglect of duty, incompetency, misfeasance and malfeasance.

A majority of Richland lawmakers have said board members neglected their duties by allowing unwarranted pay raises and widespread nepotism and ignoring complaints against the commission’s former longtime director, James Brown III.

The governor’s hand was forced in this situation and she made the correct, if rare, decision to remove the board members, said John Crangle, former director of Common Cause SC and a longtime, outspoken ethics watchdog.

The next step to righting the Recreation Commission, Crangle said, is “putting the right people” on the board. “Not cronies, but people who have background in athletics and recreation and people who have integrity and are willing to spend the time and effort to do the job,” he said.

The commission’s board members are recommended by the legislative delegation and appointed by Haley, who has the sole authority to remove the board members from service.

The governor’s decision “closes the long and unfortunate issue of the Richland County Recreation Commission,” said outgoing state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland. “Many employees, current and former, have unfortunately had to bear the brunt of a director and board who were out of control and accountable to no one.”

Lourie was one of the first among the county’s legislative delegation to push for an investigation into the Recreation Commission.

Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland, said he respected but disagreed with the governor’s decision. He was in the minority of the delegation who did not ask Haley to remove the board members.

“I think it’s going to be difficult to get good people to want to serve after the way these commissioners have been treated,” Howard said. “I’m disappointed that we would treat citizen representatives like we did when we asked them to serve. I’m disappointed in a lot of my colleagues. I don’t know what their agenda is.”

Brown, the former commission director, was indicted by a Richland County grand jury in October, accused of using his position “to coerce and attempt to coerce female employees into having sexual contact with him.” He says he is innocent.

Numerous civil lawsuits also are pending against Brown, Green, Mickens and the commission.

Brown voluntarily retired after the indictment was handed down.

Mickens, Green and Clark defended themselves at a nearly three-hour hearing before a panel of three Haley-appointed lawyers Nov. 30. The two said news media reports about their commission were false, inflammatory and made matters worse.

Appointed to the board in February, Clark had asked the governor to note that he is a recent appointee who wants very much to serve and was not involved in earlier controversies.

Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.

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