School board issues statement on Ethics Commission investigation
The South Carolina Ethics Commission is investigating an undisclosed number of Berkeley County School District employees.
The investigation, being done at the request of the South Carolina Attorney General’s office, is in regard to possible misuse of BCSD employees and equipment during a campaign to support a bond referendum.
The campaign – “Yes 4 Schools” – ended after the November general election when Berkeley County voters passed the $198 million referendum with a 59 percent majority.
The Berkeley County School Board passed a resolution addressing the investigation at its regularly scheduled March 12 meeting in Moncks Corner.
“In public session Tuesday night (board member) Kent Murray read a motion and a statement regarding the ethics investigation,” BCSD Public Information Officer Susan Haire said last week. “In public session the board voted unanimously 9-0 to approve the motion.”
The motion states: “After reviewing the requests of district employees during executive session that the district provide for independent legal counsel to appear and represent them . . . based on the advice of the board’s legal counsel, I move that we approve the requests to provide reasonable and customary legal fees and expenses under the circumstances.”
Former school board member Terry Hardesty was on the board from 2006 to 2010.
“They all voted to hire outside council . . . if I had been on that board I wouldn’t have voted for that,” Hardesty said, adding that the firm of Childs and Halligan, which normally represents BCSD, will not be used in this case but rather outside attorneys will be hired.
“It implies to me they’re pretty worried about the outcome,” Hardesty said. “I don’t know specifically that they violated the law. I have the opinion they did. The Attorney General is curious about it, too, so they’re investigating.”
“We’re doing an investigation for the Attorney General’s office,” S.C. Ethics Commission Director Herb Hayden said Friday. “It’s a combined, coordinated investigation between this office and SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) at the request of the Attorney General. I can’t comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation.”
A BCSD statement that went along with the motion claims opponents of the referendum sought an investigation into BCSD’s efforts and the district is cooperating with the investigation.
State law requires if a district employee is prosecuted in any action the district is required to defend the action when requested, according to the statement.
The statement goes on: “Even though no civil or criminal action has been initiated against any of our employees at this time, based on the advice of the board’s attorneys, we believe that its employees’ acts or omissions in connection with the school improvement referendum were in good faith and in the scope of their employment. Under these circumstances, it is the district’s statutory obligation to provide legal representation for its employees.”