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