Harpootlian blasts Richland County for voting to hire PR firm

First-term senator Dick Harpootlian brings passion to post

Dick Harpootlian
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Dick Harpootlian

Richland County doesn’t have a public relations problem, said S.C. state Sen. Dick Harpootlian. “It has a good governance problem.”

The senator and former Richland County councilman harshly criticized the county council’s decision to hire a public relations consultant to work with council members. In a letter to council chairman Paul Livingston obtained by The State, Harpootlian says the “idea that this is a prudent or necessary use of public resources is absurd.”

“(P)lease allow me to offer Richland County some free advice on how council can achieve better public relations: end the internecine squabbling and do your job,” Harpootlian said.

Harpootlian served on county council from 1986 to 1991 and as the chief prosecutor for Richland County from 1995 to 1995, as well as twice being chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party. He was elected to the Senate from Richland County’s District 20 in a 2018 special election, a position from which the attorney has sought to shake up the S.C. State House.

But he hasn’t stopped following the decisions of Richland County Council. In Monday’s letter, he cited the reporting of The State on the decision of the council to spend up to $50,000 on outside consultants to assist council members with communicating with constituents, arrange district events for them, and “coach” members for media interviews.

“The dysfunction on council has been a long-running and well-documented problem,” Harpootlian writes in his letter. “The bad press and public disapproval that has followed council has been rightly earned. Richland County Council does not have a public relations problem, it has a good governance problem. This wasteful and self-serving expenditure appears to be just the latest example.”

Harpootlian’s letter doesn’t site examples of dysfunction. But the county council in 2018 fired former Administrator Gerald Seals in a surprise 6-5 vote. The council later gave him a severance package of more than $1 million. Council members also have clashed over an aggressive program called Richland Renaissance that was later abandoned, at least temporarily. And the state Supreme Court raised questions about how some money from the county’s penny road construction program was spent.

The senator did offer praise for councilmen Chip Jackson and Bill Malinowski, who voted against the measure last Tuesday.

A request for comment from Livingston on Harpootlian’s letter was not returned prior to publication.

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Bristow Marchant is currently split between covering Richland County and the 2020 presidential race. He has more than 10 years’ experience covering South Carolina. He won the S.C. Press Association’s 2015 award for Best Series on a toxic Chester County landfill fire, and was part of The State’s award-winning 2016 election coverage.