Fireworks erupt in R2 board meeting

Agostini Calls Out Chair’s Maneuver To Bypass Board

COLUMBIA – The Richland Two School Board of Trustees’ Tuesday evening special called meeting started off quietly enough with the nomination of officers, a requirement following any election impacting the composition of the board. The previous chairman, James Shadd, was not re-elected to his seat in the Nov. 3 election. James Manning was elected to finish Shadd’s chairmanship, which expires June 2021. The vote was 5-2 with Dr. Monica Elkins and Lindsay Agostini voting against.

Fireworks soon erupted, however, when Amelia McKie was nominated to represent the board for a four-year term as the region 8 director for the South Carolina School Board Association (SCSBA).

 Agostini reported that Manning, in his previous term as chair, had already nominated McKie to the board, without the board’s knowledge or approval. Confronted by Agostini’s accusation, Manning confirmed it without apology and proceeded as if nothing were amiss.

“We actually have a letter already in to the School Board Association for Ms. McKie,” Manning said, as if following procedure. “It has been brought to our attention that in order to ensure that we follow every policy to the letter, we need to take this vote [to confirm McKie’s nomination.]”

But Agostini pointed out that the issue had been brought to Manning’s attention by the SCSBA after she learned about McKie’s nomination through an SCSBA quarterly update and contacted the SCSBA about the issue. She read excerpts from an email she subsequently received from the SCSBA.

She quoted from the email: “Regarding Amelia McKie’s candidacy for region seat 8, that includes confirmation from the chair (Manning) that the [Richland Two] board approved her (McKie) as a candidate.”

“The board did not approve her as a candidate,” Agostini told the board. “There has been no vote for her nomination, and I just want to clear that up for the record. This did not come to the board for a vote.”

Manning dismissed the issue entirely and called for the board to confirm the nominee for the region 8 representative to the SCSBA. McKie was approved in a 5-2 vote with Agostini and Elkins voting against.

Among other oddities during the meeting, both Manning and Superintendent Baron Davis repeatedly shut down discussion about both the nominating process for board officers and McKie’s region seat 8 nomination, by insisting that Robert’s Rules of Order do not permit discussion for those agenda items.

“I’m a little confused. There’s no discussion before the vote, and there’s no discussion after the vote?” asked Board Member Monica Elkins. “I remember last time there was a discussion…. It’s my understanding that you can always have a discussion,” she said.

Robert’s rules do not prohibit such discussion. But the repeated claim by Davis that they do was enough to prevent it.

When the board moved on to legislative issues, however, Agostini refused to stay silent.

“I want to make a comment whether it’s open for discussion or not,” Agostini said. Again, when she pushed for discussion about the legislative issues in regard to the SCSBA, she was met with resistance from Davis and Manning.

“I find that this meeting has been almost a joke – a complete waste of time,” Agostini said in frustration. “If you Google both our chair-elect (for the SCSBA Jamie Divine) and our director (McKie), they’re littered with ethics issues.”

When the agenda was posted last week for the meeting, R2 board watchdog Gus Philpott advised the board members in an email not to nominate either McKie or Holmes for a board office.

“Neither is a bona fide member of the board, because neither has legally taken the oath of office for the Richland Two board. Both violated state law Section 8-13-1110(A) by taking the oath before they had filed their Statements of Economic Interests. Neither has taken the oath since Dec. 4, 2018, when she filed her SEI,” Philpott said.

Further, he reminded the board in the email that McKie owes $51,750 to the S.C. Ethics Commission, which filed a Judgment against her in the Richland County Common Pleas Court in July 2019.

“It is my understanding that the full amount remains unpaid,” Philpott said.

Philpott also said the board erred by not voting on the role of clerk (secretary) at Tuesday night’s meeting. Both chairman and secretary, he said, are positions that, according to state law, must be filled by vote as soon as possible following an election that results in changes on the board.

After the meeting, the Richland Two Black Parents Association weighed in in an email to The Voice, condemning the board for “incompetency, favoritism, cronyism, and racism,” in a message that expressed disappointment about Manning’s selection and appeared to reflect broader frustration with how the board operates.

In a review of the three school board incumbents prior to the Nov. 3 election, based on their past service, the Black Parents Association gave Agostini an A, Elkins a B+ and, along with a scathing review of Shadd’s work on the board, offered no recommendation for his re-election.

Barbara Ball contributed to this article.