'I’m just sort of astounded at what I’ve heard': DPS Director draws fire from lawmakers

'I’m just sort of astounded at what I’ve heard': DPS Director draws fire from lawmakers

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The man who runs South Carolina's Department of Public Safety has drawn new bipartisan criticism from a legislative panel.

Hours into a Monday meeting of the House Legislative Oversight Committee, it was clear some members were not satisfied with the responses they were getting from DPS Director Leroy Smith.

Smith and others from the agency addressed findings from a review compiled by the Office of Inspector General.

The OIG issued its 37-page report several weeks ago, targeting three issues including recruitment, hiring, and retention, how internal investigations were handled by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility and leadership, communication, and DPS employee morale.

The review found a sharp spike in employees leaving DPS in FY 2017, a 38 percent increase compared to the prior six-year average. The OIG says 74 percent of so-called "separations" over the past seven fiscal years occurred in the Highway Patrol Division.

Separations include departures for personal reasons, retirements, deaths, and firings. Most of the separations from the patrol, 58 percent, were due to personal reasons.

The report found almost half of DPS employees either strongly disagreed with or disagreed that they supported agency leadership, with only 32 percent indicating they supported the department's management.

A majority of employees, 58 percent, believed morale was poor at the agency. Smith told the lawmakers his department has "never let the state of South Carolina down" and pointed to its performance during crises including a white supremacist rally at the State House and after the murders of nine people at Mother Emanuel church in Charleston.

But Aiken Republican Rep. Bill Taylor was not impressed.

"I must tell you from the last ten or fifteen minutes, I'm just sort of astounded at what I've heard," Taylor said.

"What I've heard is an agency that is in total defense of itself," he told Smith.

Rep. Gary Clary, a Pickens Republican told Smith "the arrogant attitude that I've heard here today, the failure to actually take constructive criticism and say that you're going to do something about it, that's not going to work."

Richland Democratic Rep. Todd Rutherford continued his criticism of Smith, again saying the director had failed to address rising highway deaths. In March, Rutherford pushed an effort to remove funding for Smith's position as director.

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