COLUMBIA, S.C. — Several lawmakers are angry with board members they appointed to the Richland County Recreation Commission as local, state and federal authorities investigate the agency, but under state law they may not be able to do anything about it.
The board operates under a decades-old South Carolina law that could mean an expensive and lengthy lawsuit if the board is fired. The same law means the Richland County Council has to fund the agency while having no power over its composition.
The council is withholding more than half the agency’s money, which could eventually punish the children who play in basketball leagues and the adults who use fields for kickball leagues.
“This seems to be the very definition of a broken system,” said state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia.
Lourie agreed with Rep. Mia McLeod, who held a news conference Monday calling for Recreation Commission Executive Director James Brown III and the commissioners who support him to quit. Brown has been on paid leave since July 1 as Richland County deputies, the State Law Enforcement Division and the FBI all investigate sexual harassment, bribery and other allegations and the commission fights several lawsuits.
“Even if every allegation, rumor and innuendo prove not to 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,” said McLeod, D-Columbia.
Brown and commissioners did not return messages seeking comment Monday and have said little since the investigations began this spring.
About a dozen recreation boards across the state fall under the same law, according to the South Carolina secretary of state’s office. They were created when county legislative delegations had massive power and South Carolina did not allow counties to handle their own affairs.
But not the entire delegation is ready to get rid of the current commissioners. State Sen. John Scott said it is only fair to see what the investigations find before demanding resignations.
“Isn’t that the way the American system works?” said Scott, D-Columbia. “Aren’t people innocent until proven guilty?”
Lourie said his anger at commissioners recently increased when the board refused to turn over a sexual harassment report that lawmakers requested under the Freedom of Information Act.