By RON AIKEN
Haley could have named successor herself, avoided special election
After waiting too long, Gov. Nikki Haley acted too fast – at least as far as Richland County taxpayers are concerned.
More than a month after Richland County Councilman Kelvin Washington was convicted on tax charges and amid public outcry for action, Haley vacated Washington’s seat by executive order late in the morning of Wednesday, March 16.
That decision meant that Washington’s District 11 seat must be filled “as provided by law,” meaning a special election would be held since more than 180 days were left in Washington’s term.
Had Haley waited just two more hours, however – or made a simple phone call to Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson – Richland County would not be facing the expense of a special election, one that could cost taxpayers anywhere from $35,000 to $64,000, according to county officials, because around 2 p.m. the same day, a Richland County grand jury indicted Washington on a felony DUI charge relating to a Feb. 28 crash with injuries.
Because Washington was indicted by a grand jury, by state law Haley could have suspended Washington immediately until his case was disposed and immediately appointed an officer of her choosing in his stead.
The decision not to wait (or the lack of knowledge about it) puts an additional financial strain on a Richland County Elections Commission currently pleading with County Council for emergency funds just to pay for the expenses it already has incurred.
Documents provided to The Nerve by Richland County show estimates of the potential cost of a special election as $34,640 if only candidates from one party run and a clear winner emerges in a primary, which is scheduled for May 31. If a runoff is required, it is scheduled to take place June 14, and the costs could escalate to as much as $63,850 overall.
“When you’re talking about an elections commission that is telling us they need a million more dollars to do the job they’re already tasked with, yeah, it’s a problem,” said Greg Pearce, Richland County vice chairman and chairman of the Administration and Finance Committee that is responsible for Election Commission funding.
“We’re going to be challenged to fund this special election,” Pearce said. “We’re already considering how much to pay of the extra funding the elections office is requesting over and above their regular budget, and this would be additional funding outside of that.
“It’s not an ideal situation for us.”
Multiple phone and email messages to Haley’s staff were not returned Tuesday. Phone messages left with the Richland County Solicitor’s office also were not returned.
A TROUBLED TIMELINE
Back on Jan. 5, Washington surrendered to authorities and was arrested along with former Columbia City Councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman for failure to file three years worth of taxes totaling $426,776. The violations were uncovered as part of the South Carolina Department of Revenue’s ongoing investigation into Richland County’s controversial penny tax program.
On Feb. 10, Washington pleaded guilty to the charges and received a $2,500 fine in lieu of probation, $1,000 in court costs and back taxes. With only the governor able to remove him from office and no action taken by Haley, Washington refused to resign and continued to work.
On Feb. 28, Washington was involved in an accident and charged with a felony DUI involving serious injury following an early evening crash. The charge came just six days after another elected official, Lexington County solicitor Donnie Myers, was charged with a DUI after leaving the scene of a one-car accident.
On Wed., March 2, Haley held a press conference calling on both men to resign from their positions. Neither did
On March 8, Haley sent a letter to Attorney General Alan Wilson’s office seeking guidance on possibly removing Washington and Myers from office.
On the morning of Wed., March 16, Haley issued executive order 2016-11 declaring Washington’s District 11 seat vacant, citing his tax conviction on Feb. 10 as a crime involving moral turpitude.
Around 2 p.m., news broke of Washington’s grand jury indictment.
Reach Aiken at (803) 254-4411. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @TheNerveSC. Sign up for email alerts to receive breaking news at the top right-hand side of the page.