New ethics violations, no clear path forward, for Richland 2 school board

Richland 2 school board member has bond hearing on disorderly conduct charges

Richland 2 school board member Monica Elkins-Johnson was arrested after an altercation following a school board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2019. She released on bond and ordered not to contact the three victims. (This video has no audio.)
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Richland 2 school board member Monica Elkins-Johnson was arrested after an altercation following a school board meeting on Thursday, Jan. 22, 2019. She released on bond and ordered not to contact the three victims. (This video has no audio.)

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story mis-stated Richland 2 school board member Cheryl Caution-Parker’s position on whether a proposal to allow a super-majority of the school board to strip a board member of his or her spot as chair, vice-chair or secretary should be retroactive. Caution-Parker said she did not want the policy to be retroactive.

Concerns about ethics and official conduct continue to plague Richland 2, while the school board has no clear procedure to deal with them.

A provision that would have allowed a super majority of board members to strip a fellow board member of his or her position as chair, vice chair or secretary, failed by a vote of 4-3. But before any votes could be cast, Superintendent Baron Davis told the audience he had failed to file forms that disclose his potential conflicts of interest.

After beginning his position as superintendent in 2017, Davis said he was not aware he had to file a statement of economic interest within 10 days of beginning the position, something he has since rectified, he said.

“I volunteered to pay the $100 fine without being told to,” Davis said.

Those mandatory forms disclose any possible conflicts of interest an elected or appointed official may have, including his or her income, family income, gifts, money made from paid speaking engagements and more.

The latest revelation comes amid several, public flaps for the district, including the board chair owing $52,000 to the S.C. state ethics commission and the board’s vice-chair being criminally charged for allegedly shoving a parent after a school board meeting.

Davis’ apology wasn’t enough for some.

Rhonda Meisner, the parent of a Richland 2 student and frequent critic of the board, tried to confront Davis and other board members regarding the district’s scandals during the public comment period, pointing to state law that says Davis shouldn’t have been able to assume office without filing the ethics forms. However, Meisner did not sign up for the public comment period and was asked to leave.

“It’s not appropriate to take public funds without being able to take office,” Meisner said when speaking to reporters outside the meeting. “They’re making a mockery of the system.”

Superintendent Davis noted the students in the room and said: “Sometimes, the things that you don’t know can come back to haunt you. But it’s your responsibility to clear those things up so they don’t come back to haunt you,” he said.

Gus Philpott, a frequent attendee at Richland 2 school board meetings and perennial critic of the board’s ethics issues, applauded Davis for being forthcoming

“Thank you for handling it the way you did,” Philpott said.

Later in the meeting, the board rejected a proposal that would allow members to strip other board members of their position as chair, vice chair or secretary.

Board member Cheryl Caution-Parker, who voted against the policy, said she agreed with the fundamental principles of the proposal, but took issue with how it came about and said it should not be retroactive.

“I agree with the policy, but I have a major problem with how this came about,” Caution-Parker said.” It’s almost like a mob mentality.”

Board member James Manning voted for the policy. He argued that since the board gets to select its top officers, the board should also be able to remove them from those positions if they are not doing a good job representing the school district.

“It’s not about any individual,” Manning said. “We have a gap (in policy) that needs to be corrected.”

The policy does not mention the ability to strip the superintendent of his or her position. If the board wanted to remove another board member, they would need to cite “cause,” but the proposal does not designate what constitutes cause.

“What does just cause mean? is it failing to file reports with the ethics commission? There are consequences for that. Failing to pay fines, there are consequences for that. Alleged to have committed criminal offense... These are items that could be up for consideration,” said board member James Shad.

Monica Elkins-Johnson, whose position as vice chair could be a target of the new policy because of allegations of disorderly conduct against her, voted in favor of it.

After the Jan. 23 school board meeting, Elkins-Johnson allegedly got into an argument with board chair Amelia McKie’s husband Stacy, cursed at him and threatened him, according to police reports.

“The investigation revealed that Elkins-Johnson was disorderly and boisterous; further Elkins-Johnson did attack several individuals and said ‘B----, I asked you to get the f---- out of my face before I beat your ass,’” according to a statement from Richland County Sheriff’s Department.

The disorderly conduct charges against Elkins-Johnson, 51, don’t prevent her from serving as a school board member, Magistrate Mildred R. Metts said at Elkins-Johnson’s Jan. 31 bond hearing.

However, her personal recognizance bond prevents her from having any contact with the victims.

Elkins-Johnson did not comment on the charges. However, her attorney, Justin Kata of the Giese Law Firm, said this at her Jan. 31 bond hearing:

“She’s not a danger to the community. She has no prior history...What’s been reported in the newspaper and what’s written in the warrant is that she attacked people at a school board meeting. We adamantly deny she attacked anybody.”

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Monica Elkins-Johnson

McKie faced calls to resign in previous board meetings this year because she failed to pay $52,000 in fees to the S.C. Ethics Commission. She received the violations for failing to submit campaign disclosure forms dating to her 2014 election, according to a previous article from The State.

Those forms, required of every candidate for public office, allow the public to view who donated to a candidate and how the candidate spent his or her campaign money. She was first fined $600 in July 2016, but that fine increased every day she failed to file the forms, according to Ethics Commission documents.

McKie has yet to pay down any of the $52,000 in ethics fees she owes, said Meghan Walker, the executive director of the ethics commission, said in January.

Lucas Daprile has been covering the University of South Carolina and higher education since March 2018. Before working for The State, he graduated from Ohio University and worked as an investigative reporter at TCPalm in Stuart, FL. There, where he won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for his political and environmental coverage.