Lawmakers defend $6.2 million non-working security system

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - One-hundred and forty-seven years ago as the flames of destruction danced through the city of Columbia, Gen. William T. Sherman's artillery men took aim at the State House.

Spots where shells slammed into the building still scar South Carolina's house of government.

The attack marked one of the closing days of the Civil War. Since then, not a single attack has disrupted work at the State House.

That still hasn't stopped lawmakers from considering themselves terror targets and spending millions of tax dollars to protect themselves inside the Capitol complex.

The thing is -- the system isn't even working.

Everywhere you go inside the State House, you see armed security guards, video cameras, metal detectors -- and that's still not enough for lawmakers, who in 2008, broke ground on a $5.3 million security system wrought with problems from the very beginning.

"That is the perfect case of bureaucracy run amok," former Gov. Mark Sanford said back in 2009.

Sanford tried to put an end to the project himself with two vetoes.

"I think that what families do around South Carolina is they measure up the wish list, if you will, versus the absolute gotta do list and from our standpoint, this did not fit with the gotta do list," Sanford said.

Sanford, who gave up his own security detail when he took office 10 years ago, says he never saw any proof from the feds that the state's Capitol complex was on any terrorists' hit list.

Sanford says politicians dreamed it up to bolster egos.

"What happens in politics is, he who holds the gold wants to control the gold and so you'll see double and triple and quadruple levels of threat around politicians, but not the same level of security for a DHEC worker who may be walking from their office into a parking lot to deal with getting home," Sanford said.
After Sanford vetoed funding the project, lawmakers took it out of his hands and the decision to fund the project fell to the Speaker of the House and the Senate Pro Tem. The legislature had $10 million to work with. State spending records show the price tag climbed and topped out at nearly $1 million more.

Not all of the $6.2 million went into buying parts, pieces, concrete, and labor. Records from the Budget and Control Board show expensive plane tickets, meals, and thousands of dollars in consultant fees were also included.

Records show in one instance, a security subcontracting firm charged $3,600 in airfare from the firm's Virginia offices to the State House, $337 in meals while in Columbia, $343 in cab rides, and another $365 in charges for a Columbia hotel. All were paid for by tax dollars under the contract.

It happened again and again. Consultant fees reached $125 per hour and totaled more than $30,000.

Four years later and the $6 million security project isn't even working. In fact, lawmakers spent another $150,000 this year to re-do some of the original work. Lawmakers spent even more tax dollars to pay a firm to replace card readers.

John Crangle, a widely-respected taxpayer watch dog from the group Common Cause, says the idea was wasteful from the beginning.

"The problem at that time is the problem today and that is the Legislature has not presented any evidence to show that these huge expenditures on security are necessary," Crangle said.

Lawmakers say the 9/11 terror attacks were the reason to secure the Capitol's underground garages. But 11 years after the nation's terror attacks, officials say, the only attack that has happened at the state Capitol was when a State House staffer's tires were slashed in a domestic dispute.

"Are taxpayers getting their money's worth out of this investment? We didn't think it passed that sort of common sense test -- again, given the levels of security that already exist at the State House," Sanford said.

Speaker of the House Bobby Harrell defended the project.

"I do think security is needed, I think it's important that we make sure that a terrorist doesn't drive a bomb in the parking garage or something like that. That could happen without the security," Harrell said.

Harrell voted to spend the money on the project. He admits he's disappointed that the project isn't working and says he doesn't know much about how the money was spent.

"I don't know every detail behind each individual dollar and how they did it, but what I do know is they told us they needed to spend the additional $150,000 dollars to make sure that the system was working properly and so, that's what they've done," Harrell said.

Lt. Gov Glenn McConnell also pushed for the security system as the Senate's President Pro Tem.

"If you don't do it and something happens, somebody's going to be snooping around here asking why we were so negligent; pointing fingers," McConnell said. "Then you're going to have lawyers swirling around with lawsuits and whatever."

McConnell didn't agree with Harrell over the $150,000 tax dollars spent this year to re-do work that taxpayers already paid for in the first place. Now, four years and $6 million later, the State House security system isn't doing much of anything.

Sanford still believes the security system is a waste of time.

"Bottom line is I don't think it's no more of a good idea today than it was 4 years ago," Sanford said.

"I suspect even some of the proponents would now recognize the fact that this has been a waste of money; it's been a waste of taxpayer resources."

Those who supported this project still maintain it was not waste. Harrell says the security system will fire up this fall and he's been told everything is in working order this time.

On top of the $6.2 million already spent, lawmakers are looking to spend even more on this project this year.

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