RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - Three state Legislators who represent Richland County want an investigation of the county Recreation Commission.
Sen. Joel Lourie, Rep. James Smith and Rep. Beth Bernstein want Sheriff Leon Lott to coordinate a special investigation of the commission, its director, and members of the governing commission. The demand for an investigation comes after an article was posted by the political watchdog site, The Nerve, regarding improper activity among the commission. The Nerve is funded by the South Carolina Policy Council.
"We have asked Sheriff Lott to coordinate with State and Federal authorities and pursue a thorough investigation of all actions of the director and any commission members that may have violated the law," said Lourie via a news release issued Wednesday.
According to the release, Lourie, Smith and Bernstein plan to file legislation to turn oversight of the Recreation Commission to the Richland County Council.
"It only makes sense that the body that funds the Richland County Recreation Commission should also be its governing authority. Accountability and transparency are clearly lacking," said Smith.
The group says the decision was made after receiving letters, emails and phone calls from concerned citizens.
"The people of Richland County deserve to know what is going on with their recreation department and it is incumbent among us as public officials to restore the public trust," said Bernstein.
Meanwhile, fellow representative Nathan Ballentine has also issued a statement of his own asking Lott to not only investigate the Recreation Commission, but the whole of Richland County Government.
"Frankly, I am fed up and disgusted with the behavior and actions of Richland County Government these days," Ballentine said. "First, we had the election debacle of 2012, then the scandals surrounding the penny tax contracts, then the secret $2 million land deals at Lake Murray and now all of this corruption with the County Rec Commission."
We asked Richland County officials for a response to this request for an investigation. A statement was sent shortly before 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
"Some of the allegations are in current litigation, which we are not going to comment on -- all of which will be tried in the court of law," the statement said. "We deny these and any other allegations that have been published. However, we will cooperate with any investigation by law enforcement or authorities and are confident they will prove to be unfounded."
Attorney Jay Babb currently has three lawsuits filed against the organization. Babb said all were brought by current and former employees with their legal complaints accusing director James Brown III of sexual harassment and abuse of his power, Babb said.
"The common thread through those lawsuits has been that if they challenge the authority at RCRC, they've been at risk," Babb said.
Babb said now that the light is shining on the situation, his clients are relieved.