Public puts pressure on R2 chair

Board Opens Door for Removal of Members from Office

COLUMBIA – Calls for the resignation of Richland Two school board chair Amelia McKie grew Tuesday night, with a fellow board member joining in those calls.

Meantime, two other board members are suggesting publicity of missing school board ethics forms has been “racially motivated.”

During the Board and Superintendent Comments portion of Tuesday’s board meeting, board member Lindsay Agostini publicly called for McKie to step down as chair.

Agostini said McKie has been evasive and dishonest in addressing unfiled ethics reports and subsequent fines from the state.

“After being informed by media of missing documents which took over a month for the chair to complete, she has taken no ownership of any wrongdoing,” Agostini said. “As you try to straighten things up for you and your family, I at a minimum ask that you step down as chair. A premier district deserves a premier board.”

In prepared remarks, McKie apologized later in the meeting for not filing her ethics forms. She said her forms are now current, and that she’s working with legal counsel to address nearly $52,000 in fines she owes the S.C. Ethics Commission.

“I am responsible and I am not running from those problems,” she said in prepared remarks.

McKie went on to state she’s faced numerous personal attacks since her ethics problems came to light.

“I have a problem that my character is maligned. Everything that I have said has been accurate at the time. My filings are accurate with the commission,” she added. “Not necessarily everything you have read or seen is accurate. I will not have my character maligned when there are two sides to a story.”

McKie’s statement didn’t address whether or not she planned to resign.

After the meeting, she declined to comment, deferring The Voice to her prepared statement.

Board members float race issues

At the Jan. 8 meeting, Board member Teresa Holmes thanked The Voice for its news coverage of missing ethics forms, including her own.

“I’m brand new to this, I had no idea,” Holmes said. “I’m glad that you actually did the story. Nobody tells you these things when you’re running.”

But at the Tuesday night meeting, Holmes did an about face, questioning the accuracy of the news reports about ethics issues, hinting race factored into it.

“All of the stuff you saw in the paper wasn’t necessarily factual,” Holmes said. “Some of it was racially motivated, I really do believe that.”

When asked after the meeting what specifically was reported incorrectly, Holmes would not comment.

Board member Monica Elkins-Johnson challenged the accuracy of news reports as well, but also could not say what was incorrect.

“I hope that we will not judge people on their skin tone, on mistakes, on their actions,” Elkins-Johnson said. “Give people an opportunity to prove themselves. People don’t know what’s going on in your household. Sometimes the media doesn’t always report things accurately.”

Stephen Gilchrist, a board member with the Richland Two Black Parents Association, said following state ethics laws is not about race.

“It’s not a racial issue from our perspective,” Gilchrist said. “This is about ethics issues Ms. McKie is dealing with, and of course the board in Richland 2.”

Similar messaging appears on the association’s website and Facebook page.

“Ethics is not synonymous with race! Let’s not draw that association,” the group’s Facebook page states. “When an issue is about personal ethics, let’s not attempt to draw parallels to our turbulent socio-politically, charged racial climate. Wrong is wrong and right is simply right!”

Jay Bender, an attorney with the S.C. Press Association, of which The Voice is a member, noted that in 2012 about 250 Republican candidates for state office were booted off the ballot for not properly filing ethics forms.

Most of the candidates were white, Bender said.

“Ethics problems in South Carolina appear to be as neutral as anything,” he said. “The threshold is are you a public official, not whether you are white or black.”

The Ethics Commission’s debtor list, a running public list of individuals with unpaid ethics fines, also consists of a clear mix of black and white candidates and lobbyists.

More resignation calls

Richland Two parent Rhonda Meisner once again asked McKie to resign during public comments. She also asked McKie to return any public money she’s received as a board member.

“I know that is not a very nice message, but that is a message that needs to be addressed in my opinion,” Meisner said.

Columbia resident Gus Philpott called for McKie’s resignation as well.

“In view of the $52,000 amount of her fines from the ethics commission, I request that she immediately and voluntarily step down from the board,” Philpott said. “If she fails to step down, I believe that the board must remove her.

“Matters of ethics are definitely not a distraction,” Philpott added. “This is an ethical issue, please address it now.”

Calling McKie a “doer,” Innocent Ntiasagwe spoke in support of the board chair.

“It’s good for us to pay attention to look at the good in the work that we do, not just some innuendos that may arise every now and then,” Ntiasagwe said. “Some people only look back and see what is wrong and don’t offer solutions.”

In June 2018, the ethics commission fined McKie $41,000 in connection with multiple violations of not filing campaign disclosure reports.

McKie was ordered to pay $21,000 by Dec. 31, 2018. When she didn’t, the fine jumped to $51,750, agency records state.

Board proposes policy change

Almost unnoticed, the district unveiled proposed revisions to a board policy relating to the election of officers, such as chairperson, vice-chair and secretary.

According to the proposed change, a supermajority can vote to remove a Board officer from his or her office, which would require five votes.

“In such a case, or in any case where there is a vacancy in a board office, the board may as soon as practical elect a member to fill the vacated office for the remainder of the term,” the revision states.

If enacted, the board under the policy could strip a board member of their office position, but not their board seat.

“I’m saddened that we had to revise this policy, but I’m grateful for those who’ve worked expeditiously to get this to us tonight,” Agostini said.

Board member James Manning said the purpose of the policy is to address edge cases. He cautioned against using it for political purposes.

“It gives us an opportunity should the need arise for us to address potential issues,” Manning said. “It really has to be a high bar for cause.”

No votes were taken on the policy Tuesday night. That would likely occur at the next meeting scheduled for Feb. 12.

The policy proposal comes in response to an investigation by The Voice into McKie and other board members with previously unfiled ethics forms. Six of seven board members either filed late or failed to file.

Manning, previously believed to have filed his forms, told The Voice on Tuesday that he was recently fined $200 for two late filings. That information, Manning told The Voice, was only released by the Commission last week.

He said the ethics commission reviewed all board members’ ethics filings after The Voice’s reports, and that he has since paid the fine.

Other board members filed missing forms in December and January following reports in The Voice, public records show.