Tense moments erupt among Richland Co. lawmakers at annual meeting, amid accusations of a ‘hostile environment’

Published: Dec. 12, 2019 at 8:39 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - At the annual meeting of the Richland County Legislation Delegation, lawmakers were scheduled to discuss what the agenda described as “delegation business and appointments to boards and commissions.”

Instead, the meeting erupted into a shouting match and allegations that one lawmaker is creating a “hostile environment” among the group.

Executive Director James Brown read a letter detailing a closed-door meeting he had with State Senator Dick Harpootlian on November 22nd, in which he says Sen. Harpootlian launched into a profanity-laced tirade.

Brown claimed Harpootlian was “disrespectful, intimidating, and demeaning” and said Harpootlian labeled other members of the delegation as “incompetent, wasteful and corrupt”. All in all, Brown said Harpootlian’s actions create a “hostile work environment.”

Harpootlian defended his actions and admitted to using strong language but said it was justified because he was questioning how taxpayer money is spent.

But other members including State Representative Todd Rutherford and Wendy Brawley said Harpootlian’s actions are unacceptable and it led to a fiery exchange between Rutherford and the state senator.

The delegation unanimously passed a motion shortly after, stating “anyone member’s actions to create a hostile environment, should not be tolerated.”

While that heated exchange dominated the meeting, the board also voted to keep Chairman Jimmy Bales in place. Rep. Rutherford introduced a motion to remove Bales, but the motion was voted down, 10-6 with one “no vote.”

The delegation also agreed to hold quarterly meetings instead of an annual meeting, promising to take up board appointments at their newly scheduled March meeting, with a cutoff for applications set for January 31.

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