R2 board secretary resigns when asked to verify that McKie is legally seated

R2 school board member Lindsay Agostini resigns as secretary. James Shadd, right, was elected to replace Agostini as board secretary. | Barbara Ball

COLUMBIA – Chairwoman Amelia McKie’s ongoing ethics problems have prompted another member of the Richland 2 Board of Trustees to resign her officer position.

Lindsay Agostini stepped down as secretary of the Richland Two board, but still remains on the board as a voting member. Agostini notified McKie and Superintendent Dr. Baron Davis of her decision via email Friday.

In a prepared statement read at Tuesday’s meeting, Agostini said she consulted her personal attorney after raising concerns about two documents she says she was asked in her position as secretary to sign.

Both documents alluded to lingering legal and ethics issues that have haunted McKie for months.

“With these questions in mind and under advice of legal counsel, my principles would not allow me to sign these two documents,” Agostini said. “Therefore, I felt it was in the best interest of the district for me to resign as board secretary but continue in the capacity as a member of the Board of Trustees.”

Neither McKie nor other trustees at Tuesday’s meeting responded to Agostini’s statement.

One document, titled “Certificate of Incumbency,” asked Agostini to confirm McKie as the board chair. It also stated the dates of McKie’s chairmanship are July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019, Agostini said.

The “Signature and No Litigation Document,” which related to the recently passed $468.4 million bond referendum for school building upgrades, was modified to include verbiage inferring that McKie is legally allowed to serve on the board in spite of failing to follow state ethics law.

“The School District is aware that members of the public have called for the resignation of the current Board Chair because of fines owed by the Board Chair to the South Carolina State Ethics Commission because the Board Chair did not have on file a current Statement of Economic Interest prior to being sworn in to a second term as a member of the Board,” the document stated.

“The School District is not aware of any litigation, regulatory effort, or official proceeding challenging the Board Chair’s right and title to serve as a Board member or Board Chair,” the document continues.

Agostini said she refused to sign both documents since she said she cannot, in fact, verify that McKie is legally allowed to serve.

“This presented several questions to me. Is this normal wording? Why is an extra paragraph needed? Have we ever included wording like this in a Richland Two bond document?” Agostini asked. “We are asking our community for half of a billion dollar bond and we need to include this language?”

McKie owes nearly $52,000 in ethics fines for failing to file various campaign disclosure reports.

She also didn’t file statements of economic interest, or SEI, forms from 2015 to 2018 until December 2018, the S.C. Ethics Commission’s online database states.

McKie did not file the forms until after The Voice sought comment from her about the missing forms. March 31 is the deadline to file SEI forms in a given year, according to the Ethics Commission.

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.

McKie has been serving on the board since her re-election in November 2018. She didn’t file her SEI forms until Dec. 4, nearly a month later.

McKie’s apparent ineligibility to serve has prompted several residents to call for her and other non-compliant trustees to step down.

“The proper action is for Ms. McKie and [board trustee Teresa] Holmes to stand up now and step away from the board immediately,” Richland County resident Gus Philpott said at a Richland Two meeting in March. “Ms. McKie is not legally a board member and so cannot be chair of this board.”

In January, when The Voice asked the state ethics and election commission spokespersons which agency is tasked with enforcing the eligibility statute, each agency punted the issue back to the other.

“I would think compliance would be a question for that body [the ethics commission],” Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. Election Commission, told The Voice in January.

Meghan Walker, the ethics commission’s director, said only the election commission has the power to remove a candidate from the ballot. She said the ethics commission only fines candidates for non-compliance.

“We don’t file an injunction or anything,” Walker said.

Section 8-13-1520 further says violations of the ethics chapter are misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in prison, a $5,000 fine or both, though there’s been no indication that charges will be filed.