Lawmakers call for Rec. Commission members to step down

Lawmakers call for Rec. Commission members to step down.jpg

COLUMBIA, SC (WACH) - Nearly a dozen state lawmakers have signed a letter demanding that five Richland County Recreation Commission board members resign.

The letter, signed by ten of the seventeen Richland County Legislative Delegation members, was sent to the commissioners Wednesday. In the letter, lawmakers write they continue to be alarmed and extremely concerned about certain commissioners' continued acts of malfeasance. The Delegation appoints the commission's board members.

Delegation members hosted a press conference Wednesday at the State House where they listed six acts of malfeasance they believe five commissioners are guilty of. They include disregarding hostile work environment for the employees, blatant abuses of nepotism, approval of irresponsible compensation, ignoring multiple allegations of sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct, lack of effective oversight and incurred excessive litigation and costs.

"Sometimes it's very difficult to do the right thing, but if it's the right thing, you do it," said Senator Joel Lourie.

The long-time lawmaker says the call for the board members' resignation has nothing to do with an ongoing investigation into the agency, rather it's about accountability. The FBI and the Richland County Sheriff's Department are both investigating the Commission.

The Commission, its executive director, James Brown III, and some board members are also the target of at least five lawsuits.

"Clearly, these commissioners continue to put their interests and those of James Brown, III, ahead of the interests of the citizens of Richland County," the lawmakers wrote in their letter.

The five Board Commissioners being asked to resign, effect immediately, are Chairwoman Marie Green, Vice-Chair Barbara Mickens, Secretary Weston Furgess, George Martin Jr. and Joseph Weeks.

The lawmakers who signed the letter include Senators John Courson, Joel Lourie, Thomas McElveen and Representatives Nathan Ballentine, Beth Bernstein, MaryGail Douglas, Kirkman Finlay, Joe McEachern, Mia McLeod and James Smith.

Earlier this month, members of the Richland Delegation requested information from the Recreation Commission Chair through the Freedom of Information Act. The commission receives public money making it subject to the request.. Lawmakers wanted copies of legal invoices paid by the Richland County Recreation Commission, details on promotions of all relatives of James Brown and board members, employment information including starting and current salaries, and a copy of a report on sexual harassment handled by the agency's attorney.

Green answered the delegation's request, however, she did not include the sexual harassment report that lawmakers have been asking to see for months. The agency spent $35,000 on the audit.

"It looks like an agency unwilling to even consider the validity of the report," said Rep. Kirkman Finlay.

Rep. James Smith says the delegation has no confidence in the five Commissioners being called on to resign.

"We will not stop this pursuit until they either remove themselves from office or they are removed from office," said Smith.

Lawmakers have asked the Commissioners to respond no later than 5:00 p.m. Thursday.

Lourie says the Delegation is prepared to take whatever procedural or legal actions necessary to remove them.

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