R2 ethics flap prompts call for resignations

McKie’s Ethics Fine Increases to $51K+

R2 parent Rhonda Meisner, left, addresses Board Chair Amelia McKie and calls for her resignation. | Michael Smith

BLYTHEWOOD – Amelia McKie didn’t respond to a public call for her resignation Tuesday in the first Richland Two school board meeting of the year amid mounting ethics fines for the board chair.

After missing a recent payment deadline, McKie now owes nearly $52,000 to the South Carolina Ethics Commission, an agency spokesperson confirmed last week.

In July 2018, the commission fined McKie $41,000 as part of an eight-count complaint that said she failed to file quarterly campaign disclosure reports.

McKie was ordered to pay the first $20,000 by New Year’s Eve. She missed that deadline, meaning the total fine increases to $51,750, according to the complaint.

“No payments were made prior to Dec. 31, 2018 and the fine amount for that particular order reverts as outlined in the order,” an ethics commission representative said via email.

Richland Two parent Rhonda Meisner called for McKie’s resignation while speaking during the second public comment period at Tuesday night’s meeting.

“I would respectfully request that you resign from the school board,” Meisner said from the lectern. “I think that as a person you’re a very nice person, you’re very sweet, but unfortunately you put the community at risk in my opinion.”

Meisner pointed to state law, which says candidates who’ve not filed Statements of Economic Interest, or SEI, forms cannot be legally seated until they do.

Section 8-13-1110 of state law says no public official “may take the oath of office or enter upon his official responsibilities” unless an SEI form is filed.

State law also says SEI forms must be filed by March 30 each year.

Board members with previously unfiled SEI forms include James Shadd III, Teresa Holmes and McKie. All have since filed SEI reports following investigative reports by The Voice.

Holmes and McKie filed their missing SEI forms shortly after The Voice contacted them on Dec. 4, according to the ethics commission’s online database. Shadd III filed his 2017 and 2018 forms on Jan. 7, 2019.

Meisner said any recent past votes taken by those board members should be invalidated because SEI forms hadn’t been filed when they were sworn in.

“There are others of you on the board that are in the same situation,” she said. “I would ask that you look at your situation and resign.”

Board members respond

Board member Lindsay Agostini, during comments by board members, said, “My integrity and my character are very important to me.” She noted that The Voice’s investigation made it clear that she and James Manning were the only two sitting board members who had filed all their eithics forms on time. Agostini ended her comment saying, “A premier district deserves a premier board.”

Other Richland Two board members didn’t directly address Meisner’s comments or missing ethics filings listed in public records during the business portion of Tuesday’s meeting.

However, several made veiled comments from the dais amid the ethics filing fallout. At least two made references to “special interest” groups or attempts to “undermine the district.”

In a prepared statement, McKie thanked teachers and district staff, encouraging them to “stay the course regardless of the slings and arrows that come your way.”

“We don’t need to let side things distract us,” board member Teresa Holmes said. “We’re here for the business of educating children. That’s what I’m here for.”

After the meeting, Holmes declined to comment on McKie or Meisner’s call for board member resignations. She did, however, address what happened with her own 2018 SEI form.

“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.”

Holmes’ 2019 SEI form has already been filed, according to the ethics commission website.

Others, including board members Monica Elkins-Johnson and Cheryl Caution-Parker, had previously missing quarterly campaign reports. Those reports were filed in December, ethics filings state.

McKie’s ethics record, though, has the most gaps.

As of Wednesday morning, McKie still hadn’t filed a campaign disclosure report since here last one in January 2015, according to the ethics commission database.

An investigation by The Voice also found inconsistencies in her SEI and lobbyist forms, which listed different amounts of income in 2015 and 2016.

McKie said she soon plans to issue a statement addressing the ethics filings.

“I’ve been working with the ethics commission to clear up some things that haven’t been accurate, and I’m going to issue a press release about that,” she said.

If McKie’s fines go unpaid and unresolved, the ethics commission has strategies it can employ to collect.

In 2015, the commission partnered with the S.C. Department of Revenue to increase ethics debt collection efforts through the DOR’s Setoff Debt Governmental Enterprise Accounts Receivable, or GEAR, collection programs.

Debtors who have reached “bad debt status” are referred to the Department of Revenue, according to the Ethics Commission website.

The Department of Revenue is authorized to garnish wages and tax refunds, or also impose liens to satisfy debts.

Richland 2 board members are responsible for a $273.9 million annual budget.

In 2017, school district millage accounted for more than two-thirds of a typical Richland 2 property tax bill, according to a report by the S.C. Association of Counties.