RICHLAND COUNTY, SC (WIS) - More lawsuits filed against leadership at the Richland County Recreation Commission appear headed to federal court.
An attorney for several current or former employees says at least four of those lawsuits involve potential civil rights violations because they allege matters including sexual harassment and discrimination.
It has been two years or more since complaints began to surface from within the Richland County Recreation Commission, and it is still not clear when any will lead to criminal charges, civil penalties, or major changes in the agency's administration.
The Richland County Recreation Commission's mission statement: "...enriching lives and connecting communities." But, some who've worked there say, it is certain Commission and board members overseeing the agency who are being enriched -- with public money.
Example, says former employee Darryl Davis, free tires, oil changes and brake work performed on the personal cars of board members at the commission's fleet maintenance shop.
"That shop is open on Saturdays, you know, for different friends to bring their cars by and, you know, get served with oil changes and tires put on it, et cetera, whatever they need," Davis said.
Davis also says on several occasions, he used county equipment to wax the floors at one of the board member's church. He also says he witnessed cash payments from Executive Director James Brown the 3rd to the board's chairwoman.
"We met over there behind the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Garners Ferry Road, in the back parking lot there, and then another transaction took place at the old Walmart on Garners Ferry Road by that AllSouth ATM machine," Davis said. "Well you know he said you got to feed the hands that feed you."
Davis says he considered himself close to Brown until he was demoted and then fired earlier this year. The former parks groundskeeper and custodian's claims adding to a litany of accusations that have defied efforts by critics to crack down on what they see as blatant abuses by the commission's top officers.
"You've got nepotism that's taking place. Clearly you've got many members of the Brown family that are working there. You've got relatives of some of the board members that were hired," Senator Joel Lourie said. "We have a responsibility to deliver a clean and efficient parks system to the people of Richland County. We have a responsibility to make sure the employees who work for the Recreation Commission are not working, in what I believe right now, is a culture of fear and harassment. And how anyone can want to just sit back and not scream and be frustrated is beyond me."
With Director Brown on extended leave, Lourie has been exchanging emails with Commission HR Director David Stringer after most of the county legislative delegation demanded commission financial records. In one of those messages, Stringer says he's been told not to talk to the media "...to avoid getting misquoted."
Lourie is now calling for a summit that would include board chairwoman Marie Green, the delegation's chairman and the county council.
There is also a report from the online site Quorum, and reporter Ron Aiken, who says Gamecock football legend Marcus Lattimore is "angry" about the problems at the Rec Commission, and interested in taking over as Executive Director if the job is open.