Councilman vows to stop fellow leaders from leaking secrets

Councilman vows to stop fellow leaders from leaking secrets

RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - At the top of a document to Richland County Council dated October 14, 2015, there's a message to council: "This document is confidential. Do not circulate."

However, weeks ago, it ended up in the hands of multiple media members.

It's a proposed million dollar contract between Richland County and a West Columbia public relations group. It's a fat deal that could've potentially given the firm's leader $194,000 alone to help "coordinate, store and deliver" federal and state flood relief goods to people in rural areas of Richland County, namely Lower Richland.

The contract was shot down after some pointed public scrutiny, but it came only after the then-secret contract was leaked.

Now, Councilman Norman Jackson is hoping to punish council members who leak a document like that again.

"Over the past few years, it has been increasingly noted that certain things have been leaked not only to the press but to other contractors," Newman said.

Jackson's motion, introduced last week, would fire county employees immediately who are caught leaking confidential info.

It reads, in part, "In an attempt to stop this unethical behavior of certain council members leaking confidential information to the media and other sources I move that Richland County Council develop a policy to address these unethical behaviors. Executive session items, confidential items and FOIA requests must be handled by the proper channels. As for staff, any staff member caught misrepresenting the agency or the Administrator shall be fired immediately. As for council members misbehavior even though we have the Ethics Commission, Council should develop some rules."

Jackson said county lawyers are now figuring out if there's a way to punish elected council members who leak as well.

"I do not want it to become a common practice," Jackson said of the leaks.

Jackson said his motion wouldn't restrict the leaking of public information, including information that must be obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). However, he said he wants to put a stop to the leak of secret contracts, bids, and other private matters discussed in executive session.

Councilman Seth Rose won't support Jackson's motion and said he doesn't know of a confidential bid that's ever been leaked.

"I find the motion interesting because we're doing the people's work," he said. "We're spending the people's money, and if you're doing right, you don't have to worry about things being leaked."

Jackson's motion concludes: "[Leaking] is becoming a common practice and it damages the integrity of this body."

Again, Rose disagrees.

"This is not common practice, and certain council member's actions alone damage the integrity of this body," Rose said.

During an interview with WIS Councilman Jackson said multiple times his motion wasn't about the controversial flood relief contract. Again, he said it was spurred by other bids and contracts being released that were not public information. However, a copy of an e-mail was leaked to WIS about unapproved public documents being leaked that involved a taxpayer-funded trip to Nashville that sources tell us Jackson was a part of.

Part of Jackson's fiery e-mail to the county council read: "This is embarrassing and I am deeply concern [sic] about this behavior. It is unethical and it shown [sic] no honor to the process we suppose [sic] to live by. Seems like leaking information to the media has become a common practice."

When asked, Jackson could only provide one specific example where a confidential bid was released, and it involved the Riverbanks Zoo. He didn't say who he believes is leaking the confidential documents. He also said he doesn't believe the leaks are costing Richland County jobs.

However, he does believe the leaks are tarnishing the council's reputation.

Copyright 2015 WIS. All rights reserved.