Mia joins calls for accountability on recreation board

Obviously, this is not news photo. But I needed art, so I went to her campaign website.

Obviously, this is not news photo. But I needed art, so I went to her campaign website…

This would have made my Open Thread last night, but I didn’t see it on The State‘s home page at the time. Maybe it hadn’t been posted yet.

In any case, I had heard late last week, off the record, that this was in the offing, and yesterday she made it official:

The Richland County Recreation Commission’s embattled executive director and five board members “who support him” should quit, a Richland County legislator said Monday.

State Rep. Mia McLeod said the resignations are necessary for the commission to regain the public’s trust amid ongoing state and federal law enforcement investigations into corruption at the office, and given civil lawsuits accusing director James Brown III of sexual harassment and other improper behavior.

Brown has denied any wrongdoing.

The Richland Democrat also announced she will push to give Richland County lawmakers the power to fire Recreation Commission board members if she is elected to the state Senate this November….

Sen. Joel Lourie — whom Mia is running to replace (the release about this came via her “miaforsenate” account) — welcomed her to the ranks of those calling for accountability. (Lourie, by the way, has remained neutral in Rep. McLeod’s contest with Republican Susan Brill.) You’ll recall that Mia was conspicuous in leading the charge against incompetence on the election commission, but was until now less so on the recreation commission scandals.

Rep. Beth Bernstein, who backed off last year after her House colleague’s aggressive announcement of interest in the Senate seat, also applauded:

And if you’d like to read her prepared remarks in their entirety, here you go:

“Thank you for joining us at one of Richland County Recreation Commission’s shining examples of what we can do right….The Adult Activity Center.

I’ve called this press conference today, not only as a member of the Richland County Legislative Delegation that appoints members of the County Recreation Commission, but also as a parent.

You see, my sons grew up playing rec league sports and our experiences were positive.  So when I get calls and emails from concerned parents, employees and community members whose fears are real and whose experiences aren’t positive…it’s heartbreaking.

We must remember, our actions will have a lasting impact on our children. As a legislator and parent…I know that we must come together to fix this situation.

So before I tell you what this is about…let me begin by telling you what it’s not about.  The issues and challenges we’re facing are not about race.  They’re not about politics.  And I would argue that they’re not even about the guilt or innocence of those who have been accused of wrong-doing.

This is about the people we are elected and appointed to serve…about their perceptions and their trust in our leadership.  It’s about honest, responsible and accountable government.

That’s why it’s critical that everyone understand that the dynamics at play within our legislative delegation are only exacerbated when members and the media engage in race-baiting and other divisive rhetoric, which diverts attention away from the real issues and positive solutions.

We may represent different constituencies within Richland County, and like the people we serve, we may be of different races, genders and political parties…but we can find common ground and work together for the good of this county and state that we love.

And while this unfortunate situation may be about a lot of things, race isn’t…or shouldn’t be…one of them.  When it comes to competency, corruption, leadership or accountability…what’s race got to do with it?

Don’t all of us want public officials who are competent and represent us with honesty, integrity and professionalism–regardless of race, party or politics?

Allegations of corruption and incompetence are not new to Richland County.  Just four years ago, I led the fight for accountability, transparency and restoration of the public’s trust when many Richland County voters were disenfranchised.

That’s why I can’t agree with colleagues who insist that we shouldn’t get involved. Truth is…we “get involved” every time we appoint any Commissioner to any County Commission. When things go badly as they have here, we don’t have the luxury of throwing our hands up and doing nothing.

That’s not leadership.

From sexual harassment to bribery, the allegations facing this Director and Commissioners are beyond alarming.  And although the FBI and SLED are investigating and multiple lawsuits are pending, none of us know when or how this will end.

If every allegation, rumor or innuendo prove to not be true….this Recreation Director and the Commissioners who support him will still be operating under a cloud of suspicion, facing a disheartened and frustrated public that simply has lost faith and trust in their ability to govern and guide this agency into the future.

Irrespective of guilt or innocence, these positions of public trust and the reputations of those who hold them have been tarnished to the point where public perception has become our reality.

I’m not here to speculate about anyone’s guilt or innocence. Obviously, elected and appointed officials are and should be held to a higher standard and sometimes legal and ethical probes are justified.  But there are times when we too, can be unfairly targeted and prosecuted in the court of public opinion without cause and due process.

And while I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, these allegations must be addressed, either privately or publicly.  When those who must defend against allegations like these choose to do so publicly, as the Director and Commissioners have here, they aren’t the only ones who are impacted. Their family members, the Commission’s employees and their families and the children and community members the Commission serves…all feel the brunt of an agency in turmoil.

I believe that the Director and the Commissioners who support him, want to do right by our children and this community. That’s why, today, I respectfully ask them to resign so that this Commission, its employees and our community can begin to face the challenges ahead–openly, honestly and without the cloud of suspicion and distrust that always accompanies allegations of corruption.

Stepping aside to defend themselves isn’t an admission of guilt.  It is simply a way to step out of the spotlight so that we can put it back where it belongs… on the children and communities that this Commission serves. That’s how we begin to heal and move forward.

It doesn’t matter who signs letters of inquiry. What matters is whether the Commission answers those questions. I implore the Commission to fully and truthfully respond to the FOIA request that my delegation colleagues have submitted. Those answers are due this week and although important, won’t change the way the public views this agency or those who hold positions of public trust within it.

What matters most now is our leadership and how we collectively address the challenges before us. I think we begin to do that through legislation that facilitates accountability.

Just a few months ago, I was proud to sign on as a co-sponsor of Representative Beth Bernstein’s bill, H.5293, which would remove County Legislative Delegations’ authority to appoint Recreation Commissioners and transfer the Commission’s powers to the County.

One of our biggest challenges is that our County Delegation, basically has the statutory authority to appoint County Commissioners, but lacks that same authority to evaluate or remove those Commissioners for cause, when the need arises.

But we can change that.

That’s why I plan to prefile legislation that will allow us to suspend or remove county commissioners we appoint.  Whether there are allegations of criminal misconduct or malfeasance, those who are appointed to serve the public cannot do the jobs for which they’ve been appointed, if the public no longer trusts them or the process. While this bill may not prevent wrongdoing, it’ll go a long way towards accountability and transparency.  That’s a first, but very important step towards restoring the public’s trust and confidence.

The people of Richland County deserve a Recreation Commission that serves the community in a transparent, responsible and responsive way.

Whether true or not, the perception is that this Commission recklessly disregards the public’s interest and concerns and wreaks havoc on employees who are simply trying to do their jobs free from threats, harassment, intimidation and retaliation.  And the fact that that perception has become our reality…is utterly reprehensible.

In the meantime, delegation members can send letters and recommendations all day long—but Recreation Commissioners aren’t bound by law to respond or comply.   Until we fix that, we’ll continue to operate the Recreation and other Commissions under an antiquated, failed system of governance that perpetually insulates public officials, to the detriment of the people they purport to serve.

Although our delegation may appear to be divided and some may argue, complicit with what has been happening, I’m encouraged and extremely hopeful that we will come together on this issue…that we will find common ground and continue to work together for the good of all of the people of Richland County.”

19 thoughts on “Mia joins calls for accountability on recreation board

  1. Doug Ross

    She should make a run for Governor… I like her style. It would definitely be interesting to see her up against Henry McMaster…

    (Please don’t say she’s inexperienced, please don’t say she’s inexperienced!)

    Reply
    1. Bob Amundson

      Ms. McLeod’s company, McLeod Butler Communications, had a $49,500 contract (contracts over $49,999 must follow the City’s procurement process ) with the City of Columbia to do Public Relations. It ended in June 2015 and she was paid about half of the contract amount. I’m not sure she had a 2015-2016 contract or has a current 2016-2017 contract.

      I am not stating an opinion about her “style;” just stating facts.

      Reply
      1. Doug Ross

        Thanks for that information. Who approved the contract? Did she perform actual work that can be evaluated to determine if she was worth it?

        Reply
        1. Bob Amundson

          Contract approved by the City Manager Teresa Wilson. From THE STATE (October 17, 2015): “For example, in an invoice for $1,800 provided to The State, McLeod says she spent 12 hours over two days last December reviewing the Police Department’s communications documents, preparing for the department’s media day, reviewing and preparing notes on an MSNBC documentary on officer-involved shootings, continuing ‘communication and coordination’ with the city and police department, and standing by ‘for media interviews; press release and final edits.'”

          Lynn Teague was quoted in the article, including: “‘Lawmakers are allowed to sell their expertise’, said Lynn Teague with the S.C. League of Women Voters. But a legislator would cross an ethical line ‘if what is purchased is the ability to have access’ to legislative decision making.”

          I suggest you read the article. http://www.thestate.com/news/business/article39634476.html#storylink=cpy

          Reply
          1. Doug Ross

            I read it, Bob. Thanks. You know I am one of the most cynical people when it comes to government and I didn’t see anything that was wrong with what Mia McLeod did. The fact that she left half the possible contract money on the table is a nice indication that she wasn’t trying to bilk the system. I never have a problem with smart people being paid to do what they do best. She disclosed the contract as she was supposed to. Those who worked with her said she did her job and did it well. Some may quibble over the consulting rates (200/150 an hour) but there are plenty of consultants billing at that rate or higher.

            Reply
  2. John

    I’m afraid I completely disagree with her premise: “Irrespective of guilt or innocence, these positions of public trust and the reputations of those who hold them have been tarnished to the point where public perception has become our reality.”

    Sorry, but public perception is NOT reality. I’m content to wait and see what the investigation tells us reality is. Trial by public opinion is not part of the process in this country. I don’t say that to endorse the commission, I say it because I refuse to crowd source an investigation. That said, if she wants to rewrite the law so commissioners have different exit options than they currently do this is a right to work state so more power to her.

    Reply
    1. Doug Ross

      How long do we have to wait for the investigation to complete? It’s been months since the allegations first surfaced. At a minimum, whichever law enforcement agencies are working on this should provide some type of regular status report — particularly if they can clear the names of anyone who may be innocent.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Law enforcement agencies don’t work that way. They have a thing about not disclosing anything until the investigation is complete, and charges are either brought or not.

        They have their reasons for that. But don’t ask me to explain; it’s been a bunch of years since I’ve had to try to drag info out of law enforcement agencies. I will say it’s probably not smart to rush them, especially if you actually want to see charges and convictions. Criminal justice doesn’t work on a news timetable.

        As I said, it’s been awhile, but I well remember how reluctant cops were to let out anything bearing upon an “ongoing investigation.” If it was an open file, they did not want to share (and maintained that they could not do so; after all this time, I can’t evaluate for you the validity of that position). Back in the day — such as when I was the news editor of a newspaper in Tennessee — we had some titanic struggles over very routine stuff. And that was a state with a MUCH stronger open records law than here.

        Back at The Jackson Sun, one of our more popular features was the daily “police blotter” that we ran. Just various complaints and reported crimes that weren’t worth separate stories. I used to particularly enjoy the pettier ones. Two favorites:

        — The lady who said a burglar broke into her house and ate some Jello from her refrigerator. That was it.

        — The hijacker who popped up in the back of a motorist’s car, and demanded “Take me to Bemis!” Bemis was an old mill village on the unfashionable southern edge of Jackson, and I had never heard of anyone being particularly eager to go there for any reason. Also, I just always found the sound of “Bemis” vaguely comical. “Take me to Bemis!” has always been one of my favorite newspaper quotes.

        Anyway… for a time, the cops cut off our access to the blotter, calling those reports “ongoing investigative files” or some such. It took me months of wrangling with the chief, and reassigning the cop reporter (who had a way of rubbing cops the wrong way) and replacing him with a new guy, to get our police blotter back…

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Oh, and there was no quid pro quo in that. It’s not like the cops demanded that I change cop reporters. If they had, I would never have done it. You don’t let newsmakers choose who will be assigned to cover them. I could just tell that this guy, while a fine reporter, wasn’t meshing well on this beat, which hurt his effectiveness in getting the news.

          The next guy, a really excellent journalist but with a very different style, got along with the cops so well that for awhile he played on their softball team. I worried a bit about that, but he was getting the news out of the cops, and that’s what counted…

          Reply
  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    FYI, y’all — Joel and Beth have called a press conference about RCRC for tomorrow (Wednesday) at 9:45 a.m.

    In attendance will be “Senator Joel Lourie, Representative Beth Bernstein, Representative James Smith, Representative Kirkman Finlay, Representative Joe McEachern, Representative Nathan Ballentine, and Councilman Seth Rose”

    I asked about Mia, and was told that “She is not sure if she can make it but she will be signing our letter”…

    Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Actually, it’s up to 10 with Mia. Only six made it to the presser this morning, but 10 signed the letter that the group released:

        Sen. John Courson
        Sen. Joel Lourie
        Sen. Thomas McElveen
        Rep. Nathan Ballentine
        Rep. Beth Bernstein
        Rep. Mary Gail Douglas
        Rep. Kirkman Finlay
        Rep. Joe McEachern
        Rep. Mia McLeod
        Rep. James Smith

        Lourie, Ballentine, Bernstein, Finlay, McEachern and Smith were at the event, and Joel (the only senator present) was the leader — speaking at the beginning and end.

        The point of the event was to demand the resignations of the five board members.

        Reply
        1. Mark Stewart

          So the defenders of the Richland County Rec. Commission members and executive director – and the status quo – are:

          Senators
          Darrell Jackson, District 21
          John L. Scott, Jr., District 19

          Representatives
          Dr. Jimmy C. Bales, District 80
          Christopher R. Hart, District 73
          Leon Howard, District 76
          Joseph H. Neal, District 70
          J. Todd Rutherford, District 74

          Way to go fellas. Outstanding representation of the citizens of Richland County. Really. No fibbin’ here.

          Reply
  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    I just noticed something. I had thought Mia’s release named the five board member she wants gone — which is why I didn’t name them elsewhere in the post. It did not.

    From the news story:

    The five board members McLeod asked to resign are board chair J. Marie Green and vice chair Barbara Mickens, both also named as defendants in civil lawsuits; board secretary Weston Furgess Jr.; George Martin Jr.; and Joseph Weeks.

    Reply

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