The Buzz

Richland legislators: Suspend embattled recreation director Brown

James Brown III
James Brown III

State lawmakers from Richland County called Tuesday for the suspension of the county Recreation Commission’s executive director until law enforcement investigations into his office are complete.

James Brown III would be suspended with pay if the Richland County Recreation Commission, which has authority to hire and fire its director, follows the legislators’ recommendation.

The Recreation Commission’s board is appointed by Richland legislators. However, the legislators’ recommendation is advisory only.

Legislators voted 9-5 to recommend Brown’s suspension against the backdrop of ongoing investigations into allegations of public corruption at the Recreation Commission, and civil lawsuits accusing Brown of sexual harassment and other improper behavior. Richland County Council also has frozen the majority of the Recreation Commission’s 2016-17 funding until an audit shows how the agency spends its money.

In a statement Tuesday, Brown said he looks forward to “being cleared of these false criminal allegations” and to the “restoration of the public’s full confidence in me and the Richland County Recreation Commission.”

Democratic state Sens. John Scott and Darrell Jackson cautioned against rushing to judgment before the ongoing investigations are concluded.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department, 5th Circuit solicitor’s office, State Law Enforcement Division and FBI are looking into allegations of public corruption at the commission.

“We have faith in law enforcement,” Jackson said. “Let them do their job.”

Scott said the commission’s services to county residents have been unaffected by the turmoil. “We acted too prematurely in getting involved in this investigation.”

But state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, and others said it is common for agencies and businesses to suspend an employee until an investigation is concluded.

“For us, as a delegation, to take no action, personally, I’m not comfortable with that,” said Lourie.

State Rep. Mia McLeod, D-Richland, said legislators have a responsibility to their constituents and the commission to “let them know where we stand.”

“Our constituents don’t understand it when we say, ‘Well, let’s just let the investigation play out and not make a decision until then,’ ” McLeod said. “In my opinion, that’s not leadership.”

The Richland County Recreation Commission is an autonomous agency funded — but not controlled — by Richland County.

State law requires the county to fund the commission at about $4.9 million for the 2016-17 financial year, which begins July 1. The county plans to release another $8.4 million to the Recreation Commission after an audit is completed.

The commission also gets money from its numerous youth programs and 40 public facilities, including swimming pools, summer camps and an 18-hole golf course.

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks

Vote count

Nine legislators representing parts of Richland County voted Tuesday to recommend suspending Recreation Commission executive director James Brown III, while five opposed the recommendation.

In favor

State senators: John Courson, R; Joel Lourie, D; and Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter (district includes part of Richland)

State representatives: Beth Bernstein, D; Kirkman Finlay, R; Nathan Ballentine, R; Joe McEachern, D; Mia McLeod, D; James Smith, D

Opposed

State senators: John Scott, D; Darrell Jackson, D

State representatives: Leon Howard, D; Jimmy Bales, D; Todd Rutherford, D

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