The chair of a state agency is threatening legal action against a top lawmaker who accused the agency of breaking the law when it awarded a $91,000 raise to a top employee.
The Commission on Higher Education increased the salary of president and executive director Jeff Schilz from $166,280 to $257,767, according to payroll records. Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, who said his staff discovered the salary increase on a state transparency website, said that salary increase was done illegally, and that both Schilz and Commission Chair Tim Hofferth, who approved the raise, should step down.
That prompted Hofferth, who maintains the raise was given legally, to push back on Leatherman — who, as the Senate President Pro Tempore and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is among the most powerful lawmakers in the state.
“You are accusing me of breaking the law and that is false,” Hofferth wrote in a Monday letter to Leatherman, which demands the Senator apologize and stop making “false and defamatory statements,” or else he will file suit. The cease and desist letter gives Leatherman until Wednesday at 5 p.m. to respond.
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S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster called on the commission to return the money it paid Schilz during the 2.5 months Shilz received the higher salary, which Schilz complied with, said McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes.
Symmes said the governor is not ready yet to say whether the raise was approved illegally.
“The Governor is looking into all of the facts, as the Department of Administration is,” Symmes said.
Leatherman is also looking for more information. He delivered a letter to the Commission on Monday asking for documents pertaining to Schilz’s raise and discussions of his salary. In the meantime, Leatherman is still calling on both Hofferth and Schilz to step down.
“This thing about giving the money back is like somebody going down the street, robbing a bank and then giving the money back once they got caught,” Leatherman said. “Is that right? Absolutely not.”
Schilz’s raise, and Leatherman’s calls for resignations, were first reported by the Post and Courier of Charleston.
The Commission on Higher Education collects data about S.C. colleges and assesses the impact of higher education-related legislation on schools and their budgets. The commission has taken a strong stand against skyrocketing tuition at state colleges and the state’s high student loan debt rates. To control tuition growth, the commission has called on colleges to control costs.
“Is this the pot calling the kettle black?” Leatherman said. “I don’t know how you square that. You really don’t.”