R2 ethics debate smolders

Residents: Some R2 Members Could Face Charges

COLUMBIA – Calls for the resignation of Richland Two board members once again punctuated an otherwise mundane agenda filled with student appeals, a diploma petition and votes on policy revisions.

And this time, one resident says some board members could face criminal charges for failing to comply with state ethics laws.

Gus Philpott, a frequent critic of the Richland Two board, said during Tuesday night’s board of trustee’s meeting that board chair Amelia McKie and board member Teresa Holmes should step down immediately.

Speaking during public participation, Philpott said both McKie and Holmes are serving illegally.

Philpott said neither McKie nor Holmes filed Statements of Economic Interest, or SEI, forms until after they were sworn in, and pledged to keep publicizing their ethics woes until they step down.

“It’s going to continue to come up until the problem is resolved. I believe that there are two board members not legally entitled to sit on the board,” he said. “I believe you must leave your seats immediately. I hope the attorney for the school district is here to advise you now.”

State law says it’s illegal for public officials to be sworn in if they’ve not filed their SEI forms. McKie and Holmes filed their SEI forms on Dec. 4, 2018, nearly a month after the November election.

Citing another section of state law, Philpott said violating the ethics law is a misdemeanor crime.

“The proper action is for Ms. McKie and Ms. Holmes to stand up now and step away from the board immediately,” Philpott said. “Ms. McKie is not legally a board member and cannot be chair of this board.

“If she does not immediately leave the board, then all of you become complicit in the illegal functioning of this board,” Philpott added.

Section 8-13-1520 of the state law says violations of the ethics chapter are misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.

McKie didn’t comment on Philpott’s demand.

Holmes said she’s taken responsibility for not filing her SEI forms on time, and repeated prior explanations that nobody informed her of the requirement.

“No one comes to even tell you that you have to file a Statement of Economic [Interest form] by a certain amount of time or anything like that,” Holmes said. “I had no clue, no clue at all.”

Meghan Walker, the ethics commission’s director, has previously said the onus of complying with the state’s SEI form mandate falls to the candidate.

“It is the duty of every candidate to understand the law when filing,” Walker told The Voice.

Holmes went on to say she thinks board member ethics issues have become sensationalized.

“What bothers me is that I’m not going to be one of those board members that sits by idly and accepts when things are done for personal reasons, or things are being done to be sensationalized,” she said. “I don’t like being used for personal reasons of other people.”

Ethical and legal issues have haunted Richland Two board members and the district’s superintendent since early December.

Six of seven board members were late filing either SEI forms or quarterly campaign disclosure reports.

Dr. Baron Davis, district superintendent, reported last month that he also was late with an SEI form. He has since paid the fine.

McKie, however, has garnered the most attention.

She owes nearly $52,000 in ethics fines stemming from multiple violations of failing to file campaign disclosure reports.

She had been fined $41,000 previously, but the fine increased to $51,750 after she missed a December deadline to make a partial payment, according to public records.

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