Crime & Courts

Recreation board refuses Haley’s request for sexual harassment report

Richland County Recreation Commission board chairwoman Marie Green declines comment after the board’s Thursday meeting.
Richland County Recreation Commission board chairwoman Marie Green declines comment after the board’s Thursday meeting.

A document that could provide crucial evidence on whether board members governing the Richland County Recreation Commission have grossly mismanaged commission affairs and personnel is being withheld from Gov. Nikki Haley.

Board members made the decision to keep the document secret from the governor in a three-minute special public meeting Thursday evening at the commission’s Adult Activity Center on Parklane Road. But first, they met out of public view in a small conference room near the larger room.

However, the commission did vote to turn over some 500 pages of documents the governor requested in an Oct. 19 letter to commissioners. The documents will be delivered to Haley’s State House office Friday morning.

Haley is trying to decide whether to fire five of the seven board members, including board chair J. Marie Green. Haley requested the report allegedly detailing the results of an internal sexual harassment investigation – as well as other information – to help her decide what to do.

Green and the five board members at the meeting refused comment and left the meeting without speaking to reporters.

A spokesman for the board said later the board decided not to provide the report because it is the subject of litigation.

Haley press secretary Chaney Adams told The State late Thursday, “The governor isn’t going to comment on information she hasn’t yet seen, but once she has the opportunity to review what has – and what has not – been provided in response to her request, she will almost certainly have something to say.”

The report, commissioned by board members, contains details of an internal investigation into alleged wrongdoing by former Recreation Commission executive director James Brown III.

The State newspaper asked for a copy of the report months ago. Ten of the 17 lawmakers who represent Richland County in the General Assembly also have asked for a copy.

Lawyers representing current and former alleged victims of Brown and commission mismanagement are also seeking the report in federal court actions.

In her Oct. 19 letter to board members, the governor also asked for personnel documents that would show if nepotism, or the practice of hiring family members, is widespread at the commission.

In an Oct. 13 letter to Haley, a majority of members of the Richland County Legislative Delegation asserted the report “provides conclusive evidence of wrongdoing” by Brown during his tenure as executive director. Despite that, they wrote, five of the seven directors voted earlier this year not to take any action against Brown. The board’s willingness to keep Brown employed was inexcusable, the lawmakers said, and asked the governor to remove the five board members who refused to fire Brown.

Delegation members wrote the letter to Haley one day after a Richland County grand jury indicted Brown on charges of misconduct in office, or specifically, using his position “to coerce and attempt to coerce female employees into having sexual contact with him.”

Brown, whose annual salary was $151,800, faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. Brown resigned his post two days after he was indicted. He says he has done nothing improper.

Haley also requested documents that would show how much Brown was compensated, how his salary rose from $110,000 in 2010 to $151,800 before he resigned. The documents also include Brown’s contract.

The commission employs about 160 people and oversees a vast county youth and adult sports empire of numerous programs and 40 public facilities, including swimming pools, summer camps and an 18-hole golf course. It received $13.3 million last year from the county government.

Brown and the commission, along with some other top employees and a pair of board members, are named as defendants in numerous pending civil lawsuits that accuse the director of various inappropriate behaviors, including sexual harassment, retaliation, bribery, nepotism and creating a hostile work environment.

During Thursday’s meeting, commission human resources director David Stringer told the commissioners the 500 pages being turned over to the governor contains “confidential personnel information.”

However, Stringer said later the commission wanted the governor to get the documents Friday morning before making any portion of them public.

The five board members the delegation wants Haley to fire are Green, Barbara Mickens, Weston Furgess, George Martin Jr. and Joseph Weeks.

Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said Thursday night the board’s action to withhold the report from Haley is “a blatant example of why this board needs to be removed. ... I hope the governor will respond appropriately and put an end to this craziness.”