The Buzz

Legislators urge Recreation Commission members to work with them

A handful of Richland County lawmakers urged the county Recreation Commission Monday to work with them amid an ongoing corruption investigation involving the commission and its director.

“I hope that we can work together to right the ship,” state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, told Recreation Commission members.

Democratic state Rep. Beth Bernstein agreed. “We want to make sure that we have a good, working relationship with the commission.”

Commission chairwoman J. Marie Green refused to comment after the meeting.

The Recreation Commission and its director, James Brown III, who is on paid leave, have come under fire in recent months.

State and federal law enforcement agencies are looking into allegations of corruption at the commission. Civil lawsuits also have accused Brown of sexual harassment and other improper behavior.

Two board members, Barbara Mickens and Green, have been named in civil lawsuits as well.

The lawmakers’ call for togetherness comes a week after the Richland legislative delegation was divided over a letter sent to the board, asking for answers to questions about the recent turmoil.

The letter, signed by eight of the legislative delegation’s 17 members, said lawmakers “are extremely disturbed by what has been happening at the Recreation Commission in recent months.”

But some — including state Sen. John Scott, chairman of the legislative delegation — said legislators should stay out of the matter and let the investigations play out.

Brown has denied all allegations of wrongdoing. However, earlier this month, he requested and was granted an indefinite paid leave of absence.

That request came after Richland legislators, who appoint the Recreation Commission’s board members, called for Brown’s suspension until law enforcement investigations are completed.

Lourie and Bernstein said Richland County residents deserve a good park system, adding they are committed to turning around the Recreation Commission.

“The members of this delegation want to be very clear — we don’t want our relationship with the board in any way to be contentious,” Lourie said.

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