Agostini: Board chair plays favorites with speakers

COLUMBIA – Amid budget discussions, policy revision votes and a slew of special recognitions, one board member’s critique of the Richland Two chairwoman’s job performance punctuated a more-than-four-hour meeting.

The drama began at about the 38-minute mark of the May 14 meeting when board member Lindsay Agostini called attention to “inconsistent” enforcement of the board’s public participation policy.

Agostini

Agostini accused McKie of giving preferential treatment to some speakers while shutting down others.

“At a Feb. 12 meeting, we denied a participant. The chair stated they had missed the signups. The chair stated we are going to strictly adhere to board policy going forward because we are going to be as ethical and policy abiding as we possibly can,” Agostini began.

The speaker in question had, at a previous meeting, called for McKie to step down, saying that McKie was not legally seated due to having failed to file a statement of economic interest form which is required by law before an elected school board member can be sworn into office.

“However, on March 26, a different community member came to speak who admittedly showed up too late to sign up on the list, and the forms had been pulled,” she continued. “When I expressed concern to our board chair in an email, she responded by saying she chose to allow latitude to allow the person to speak.”

McKie said she had started cracking down on public participation after she felt some speakers failed to display proper decorum.

“When our meetings became out of order, when they became a three-ring circus, and people used my graciousness and latitude for personal gain and for insult, I chose to abide by public policy,” McKie said. “I don’t make any apologies for that. I’m happy to abide by public policy.”

McKie has come under fire in recent months, largely over a litany of violations of state ethics laws.

The S.C. Ethics Commission recently fined her $51,750 for failing to file various ethics forms. There have also been calls for her to step down from the board.

As public participation began last Tuesday night, the evening’s only speaker sided with Agostini and called for greater transparency from the board.

Columbia resident James Mobley, who ran unsuccessfully for the board in the past, also called upon the board to extend public participation from three to five minutes.

“You have hurt Ms. Agostini and I’m sad about that,” Mobley said. “I believe that she deserves an apology. Unity should be a driving factor on this board.”

Later, during the board member comment period, Agostini again raised the issue of inconsistent adherence to district policies. Then she turned to McKie’s ethics issues.

Agostini didn’t directly mention McKie by name, though she referenced a story in The Voice that stated McKie hadn’t filed her April 2019 quarterly campaign disclosure report as of May 7. It was due April 10.

According to Ethics Commission filings, McKie filed the form May 8, the day after The Voice notified her about the tardy filing.

Agostini stated the missed ethics deadline came on the heels of the board adopting a policy demanding punctuality from staff when submitting reports and assignments.

“Once again we’ve heard from the media of another missed deadline for campaign disclosure reports after being assured in January that it wouldn’t happen again,” Agostini said. “When do we start walking the walk and hold ourselves to the same standards we put in place for others?”

McKie was visibly frustrated with what she called “accusations” and “personal attacks,” though she never addressed anyone by name.

“I have a bevy of comments to share but in the respect of your time I won’t do so,” McKie said. “I won’t dignify certain accusations tonight that haven’t been asked of others.

“You can’t pick and choose who’s acceptable to hurt and who’s not,” McKie continued. “At a board meeting or any facility, nobody should be hurt. Nobody should be injured; nobody should be castigated.”

Other board members, most of whom have also missed ethics filings, and some of whom have paid fines, avoided addressing Agostini’s comments. Most declined to say anything at all.

Board member Cheryl Caution-Parker was the only other trustee to speak. She didn’t directly address any issues from the meeting.

“I do have something to say, but I’m not going to say it, but it’s on the tip of my tongue,” Caution-Parker said. “I’m sure a lot of you out there know what I want to say.”