Richland County Council, officials work to restore trust with the community

Richland County Council, officials work to restore trust with the community

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Restoring trust and building confidence is something that the Richland County Administrator and new council members said is at the top of their agenda in 2021.

“From start to finish if we do that, I think it will give people the confidence that they need that their county government personnel are following the same kind of standards they would hold themselves to if they were in that position,” Richland County administrator Leonardo Brown said.

Richland County Council ushered in a new era, with five new council members being sworn in on Thursday. It comes less than two weeks after former Richland County Councilmember Dalhi Myers was indicted on 24 charges alleging misconduct in office.

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“Across the board, there’s a level of accountability, whether it’s the p-card or anything that we’re doing,” Richland County Council District 7 Councilwoman Gretchen Barron said.

Purchasing cards, also known as p cards, were at the center of the Attorney General’s indictment of former Councilwoman Myers, as well as an internal investigation led by Richland County Administrator Leonardo Brown. Purchasing cards are essentially credit cards each council member is given to make charges for county expenses.

“When I heard some of the allegations levied by the attorney general’s office, I was shocked,” Brown said.

The attorney general’s indictment claims that former Councilwoman Myers used the p-card to expense trips to Greece, Georgia, and Nashville, as well as other personal expenses. However, Brown said his investigation in June led him to the conclusion that Myer’s use of the purchasing cards represents a larger problem.

“They have at their own discretion by their rules or policy the ability to determine for themselves using their own discretion what is a charge that is needed to serve the constituents,” Brown said. “I think that’s where some of the questions have been raised, and that’s what I raised.”

Brown said he gave the council recommendations back in the summer that would change the lack of oversight.

“The first step is to make p-card procedures universal,” Brown said. “It doesn’t matter what elected office you hold, what appointed office you hold, whose staff you are or who you report to, the p-card process should be consistent across the board and that’s how you have those good checks and balances”

Councilwoman Barron, who filled Gwendolyn Kennedy’s seat, agreed that policy change is needed.

“I can talk to you all day and tell you all the great things I’m going to do, but if I don’t have your trust then you don’t believe anything I’m saying,” Barron said. “I want the citizens of Richland County to know that we are going to work real hard to build the trust.”

Brown said that he hasn’t heard a timeline on when the Council might discuss the memo that he gave them. Richland County Council Chair Paul Livingston said in a statement earlier in December that Richland County Council will review recommendations to improve the accountability and transparency in its use of purchasing cards.

Richland County Council will have its first board meeting of the year on January 5.

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