SC Ethics hearing held for R2’s McKie

COLUMBIA – Amelia McKie blamed a “misinterpretation” of state ethics law as to why she failed to declare school board pay on her state ethics filings during a recent State Ethics Commission hearing.

McKie

McKie, a member of the Richland Two Board of Trustees and former board chairman, also complained that Gus Philpott, a Richland County citizen watchdog who originally filed the ethics complaint, continually harasses her.

“I thank you all for creating a safe environment for me today,” McKie told the commission. “This person who has filed a complaint against me has harassed me ad nauseam.”

McKie said she asked the Richland County Sheriff’s Office to beef up security near her home. She said she also parks in an undisclosed parking spot when attending school board meetings.

“The complaint [that says] I am not upholding my duties as an official is personal. It was malicious and he has continued to harass me,” she said.

At Thursday’s hearing, McKie testified that she and other Richland Two board members were told at a past S.C. School Board Association function that board member annual salaries of $9,600 are “stipends,” and not reportable income.

“As soon as I was notified that I was wrong, I brought myself into compliance immediately,” McKie said.

Pressed by one of the commissioners, McKie couldn’t state exactly when or where she received that advice, or the name of the speaker who classified board pay as a stipend.

McKie said her stipend explanation was merely her interpretation, not necessarily what the school board association speaker actually said.

“Clearly it was my misinterpretation,” McKie said. “I’m not putting the onus of my misinterpretation on the school board association.”

Ethics commissioners didn’t make any decisions Thursday. A final ruling is tentatively expected in two to three weeks.

Philpott, who didn’t speak, has said he filed the ethics complaint because McKie failed to declare her school board annual income of $9,600 on her 2020 Statement of Economic Interest (SEI) form.

As a result, he asserts McKie has served on the school board illegally, saying McKie took the oath of office without first filing a proper SEI form. State law requires candidates to file an SEI before they can be sworn in.

Philpott has called for McKie to either resign or take the oath of office again.

On Thursday, neither the ethics commission’s attorney nor the commission’s investigator who testified delved too deeply into the circumstances of the complaint, including the question of whether McKie was improperly sworn in.

Courtney Laster, general counsel for the ethics commission, asked the investigator about basic statements of fact. Laster did not question McKie.

The investigator testified he contacted McKie on three occasions in late 2020 before she responded. He said he telephoned her on Dec. 1, and then sent emails on Dec. 10 and Dec. 22.

McKie acknowledged receipt of the complaint on Dec. 23, and later that day she amended her SEI to include her school board pay, the investigator testified.

The investigator further testified the complaint was unique in that it originated from a private citizen (Philpott), and not the commission.

Questioning from one commissioner suggested that could reduce any penalty McKie might pay since staff didn’t originate the complaint. Typically the ethics commission charges a $550 administrative fee.

“This was unique because it was filed by a third party. There was no staff involved,” the investigator said. “Staff was not involved in initiating the complaint.”

If the commission rules against McKie, the panel has several options at its disposal.

Section 8-13-540 says the commission can reprimand McKie, impose a fine, or even recommend expulsion. If the commission determines a willful violation occurred, the agency could refer the matter to the Attorney General for criminal prosecution, the law states.

Laster, the commission’s attorney, said McKie could be fined up to $2,000 if commissioners rule against her.

McKie already owes over $57,000 in unpaid ethics fines for failing to file various campaign disclosures dating back to 2015, according to the Ethics Commission website.

Thursday’s hearing did not address those unpaid debts.

Comments

  1. My October 2021 complaint to the Ethics Commission was that Amelia McKie had failed to disclose her Richland 2 income for 2020 on her 2021 Statement of Economic Interests. In April 2022 the Commission determined there was probable cause to hold a hearing. A hearing was scheduled in June, but McKie begged off the day before, claiming she might have COVID. The hearing was re-scheduled to October 20 and was held that day.
    The Complaint included NOTHING about “not upholding my duties as an official”/
    McKie reported income from Richland 2 on several years of SEI filings before the 2021 SEI. Before testifying, she swore to tell the truth.

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