May 17, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Investigative Ball Still in Governor’s Court

investigative ball still in governor's court

Editor’s Note: The following column was submitted by Nerve Citizen Reporter Katrina Fay of Hickory Tavern.

On Monday, March 11, I spoke to Gov. Nikki Haley about an investigative complaint I filed with her office and the Office of Inspector General, multiple times since September 2012. Haley said she was already looking into it, promised her personal attention, and promised a call to me the next day.

I asked her how the S.C. Commission on Ethics Reform can change the obstructive, deceitful culture of agency operations. She agreed new laws can’t reduce agency corruption.

Apparently, reducing agency corruption isn’t a concern for Haley. Neither is earning citizen trust.

Nobody called me like she promised. I called her office Monday. It was obvious she didn’t tell anybody anything. She said last week that her office was “looking into” my complaint. Somebody lied to her, or she lied to me.

Haley must not understand operations management. Competent operations management leaders deliver on time, within budget, to specific quantifiable goals. They don’t make empty marketing promises.

My complaint alleges misuse and misappropriation of funds associated with the Hickory Tavern Youth Recreation Association (HTYRA), a registered public charity; the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation  and Tourism (PRT); and Laurens County.

About 30 years ago, Laurens County Administrator Ernest Segars entered the county into the first of multiple agreements with PRT to develop and improve a recreational facility on HTYRA’s bare, unimproved land.

Segars also entered the county into agreements with HTYRA. John Martin, HTYRA’s treasurer, has exclusive access and control to operate the facility. The county pays Martin’s operational costs.

I submitted S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the county and Martin. Neither disclosed any record of County Council approval of the agreements. Martin refused to disclose any financial records and business records.

PRT terms require that the county operate the facility for public purposes. The county never did.

I asked PRT Director Duane Parrish to explain why the agency kept giving funds to the county in violation of the agreement terms. I demanded proof that the lack of oversight isn’t routine.

I asked a PRT lawyer to explain how avoiding disclosure with obstructive, evasive double talk increases transparency. After months of evasion, the lawyer asserted HTYRA is publicly operated. She has access to Martin’s documented refusal to disclose bank records and knew that the S.C. Secretary of State is investigating my report.

I asked the lawyer if she understood the negative presumption of irreparable damage codified in plain English in Section 30-4-100 of the FOIA. I asked for the basis for her assertion of “public” use. I demanded that the state Office of Inspector General prove that her disregard of the mandates in the FOIA and the state public charities act isn’t typical of agency lawyers. I asked if the lawyer had Haley’s approval to make findings about hidden public finances.

An OIG investigator demonstrated Haley’s incompetent operations management leadership. He didn’t seem to grasp the concept of reliability, or process, or earning citizens’ trust. He never responded. He just asked how much money was involved.

Haley can’t be depended on to manage the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) for reliable results, either.

In December 2012,  Laurens County Sheriff Ricky Chastain forwarded my report to SLED.

Conflict #1: SLED doesn’t investigate citizen reports of corruption involving a public servant unless referred by another official, such as the sheriff. The sheriff is funded by the folks I am investigating. He has working relations with them. He did promptly forward my complaint. But within a day or two, someone told Segars.

Conflict #2: According to SLED, the investigation couldn’t proceed without authorization from 8th Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo. Like all solicitors, Stumbo’s office is funded by the jurisdictions he serves. He has working relationships with County Council members.

I objected strenuously to the conflicts. SLED wouldn’t refer my complaint to a solicitor in another jurisdiction. I asked for the written procedure. There isn’t one. It’s just the way they do things. No written procedure, no reliable process.

Gov. Haley is surrounded and advised by public servants. They don’t have my back, and they don’t speak for me. It’s my responsibility to refocus Haley on citizens’ operational priorities.

It was Haley’s responsibility to respond with operational goals that meet citizens’ priorities.

She had the same opportunity I offered S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson to catalyze a new model of collaboration with citizens as partners and co-owners with their response.

Instead, just like Wilson, Haley responded with arrogant disdain of government duty to earn citizens’ trust. At least Wilson didn’t bother making an empty promise.

It’s easy to see Haley’s publicized claims of efforts to reduce corruption aren’t meant to win endorsements from those she’s supposed to be serving –  the citizens of South Carolina.

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