Will Governor McMaster remove R2 board members?

COLUMBIA – With the recent passage of a state law enabling the governor of South Carolina to remove school board members for misconduct in office, some parents in Richland School District Two are asking if the law will be applied here and, if so, to what extent.

According to the governor’s office, that question is under review.

“The governor is aware of the incident and other incidents that have seemingly plagued the Richland 2 school district leadership,” said Brandon Charochak, a spokesman for the governor’s office, in an e-mailed statement.

“At this time, the governor’s office is actively considering whether this new law could be appropriately applied to this particular situation.”

The incident referenced is a recent case, involving school board member Lashonda McFadden, which was recorded. On the recording, McFadden can be heard making a verbal threat during a closed-door meeting, implying that she would beat up another board member in the parking lot later.

But this is far from the first time a member of the Richland Two school board has been in the public eye for bad behavior.

A glance back at previous headlines shows that all but maybe one member of the school board has either been arrested, cited for an ethics violation, cursed a member of the public or otherwise crossed obvious ethical boundaries in their public conduct, perhaps even for recording the now infamous executive session.

All of this has occurred in the time frame since 2019, when Gov. Henry McMaster removed another set of local officials – the entire Richland County Election board – after they failed to count more than 1,000 votes in the 2018 election, part of a pattern of similarly egregious errors going back several years.

In the case of the election board, the governor’s order came the day after a contentious election board meeting that contained a lot of shouting – the same sort of meeting that the school board conducts regularly.

The recent Richland Two executive session conversation, which resulted in a criminal charge against McFadden, was surreptitiously recorded, apparently by a member of the board, in violation of a school board policy that exists to protect the privacy of students and employees whose individual situations come before the board. 

McFadden, however, is not the first member of the current board to be arrested. School board member Monica Scott was arrested following a parking lot altercation after a school board meeting in 2019, when she was serving as the board’s vice-chair.

Also in 2019, board member Amelia McKie, while serving as chair, was issued more than $50,000 in ethics fines for not filing campaign and lobbying disclosures and misrepresenting campaign spending.

According to the South Carolina State Ethics Commission, McKie now owes $57,100 in fines and late fees, an amount that puts her in the top 10 statewide on the commission’s list of ethics fine debtors.

More recently, another school board member was caught on video in November 2021 shouting “f*** you” to parents who were unhappy with a policy decision outside a school board meeting.

Meanwhile, both McKie and current chair Teresa Holmes have been repeatedly called out for their failure to properly complete the procedure required to be sworn into office at the start of their term, bringing into question whether they are legally seated board members.

And the same closed-door recording that caught McFadden cursing and threatening Holmes also caught Holmes taunting and bullying McFadden.

In addition to all of their individual issues, members of the school board collectively have engaged in constant infighting and some of them recently opted to turn a blind eye when their superintendent reportedly charged a parent in the school board meeting room and his wife, a teacher, reportedly cursed a 14-year-old student in the audience.

Stephen Gilchrist, a member of the Richland County Planning Commission and of the Richland Two Black Parents Association, has called the district “the poster child” for the new law – and called on leaders within the county and community to hold members of the school board accountable for their behavior.

He said parents have been calling the governor’s office asking McMaster to intervene.

Some in the community have called for removal of the entire board, similar to what occurred with the election board in 2019. Others have simply sought a review of the situation in hopes of finding a solution to the dysfunction that has plagued the district the last couple of years.

Charochak said that, in addition to the new law, McMaster supports another piece of legislation, which would give the governor authority to direct the State Inspector General to investigate school districts.

“South Carolina needs stronger and expanded investigative authority to improve its ability to investigate how taxpayer funds are spent and influenced,” according to a statement in the governor’s executive budget.

“Governor McMaster believes the SIG should be given statutory authority to follow state taxpayer dollars wherever they go in order to bolster accountability among any agency, local government, school board, or other organization that receives these funds.”

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]