Security Detail for Lt. Governor Necessary?

June 6, 2012

Investigative Reports

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548db09865922fbbb698ae0a4dcd4626Three years ago, then-Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell – one of the most powerful lawmakers in the General Assembly – sponsored a bill that would have created a “Capitol Police Force” to protect him and his fellow 169 legislators.

Under his bill, the new police agency would have had its own chief and include the sergeants-at-arms of both chambers, along with “deputy officers and other employees.” It would have replaced sworn officers from the state Bureau of Protective Services, a division of the S.C. Department of Public Safety.

The bill never made it out of the House. But in a backup move, lawmakers approved creating the police force through state budget provisos and appropriated more than $1.9 million for the new agency, despite the fact that the state and country were struggling through the Great Recession.

The plan died after public outcry and strongly worded vetoes from then-Gov. Mark Sanford.

McConnell, however, who became the lieutenant governor earlier this year with Ken Ard’s resignation, apparently hasn’t given up on his desire to have state-funded body guards.

The Senate version of the fiscal 2013 state budget, which passed last month, earmarks $441,958 for a four-member security detail for McConnell. If approved, he would be guarded in and out of his office by sworn agents of the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) – the state’s lead investigative law enforcement agency.

The House version of the state budget, which passed in March two days after McConnell was sworn in as lieutenant governor, doesn’t contain the security-detail appropriation. A conference committee made up of members of both chambers likely will be appointed to resolve differences in the budget versions.

The regular legislative session ends Thursday, though legislators are scheduled to return later this month to take up any conference committee reports and vetoes.

As has been his practice with The Nerve, McConnell, a Charleston Republican, didn’t respond to written and phone messages this week seeking comment on the proposal security detail for him.

The $441,958 amount is listed under the State Law Enforcement Division’s proposed budget for next fiscal year, which starts July 1. The security detail was not requested in SLED’s original budget request.

Of the total amount requested for extra security, $290,758, or $72,689 for each of the four proposed SLED agents, would go for salary and benefits; the $151,200 balance would be for equipment and other non-recurring expenses.

The appropriation would be funded in part with a projected additional $397 million in general-fund revenues this fiscal year and a $122 million surplus from last fiscal year.

Contacted Tuesday, SLED Chief Mark Keel told The Nerve that McConnell’s office recently informed his agency that a security-detail appropriation “had been requested.”

“It’s my understanding that the leadership of the House and Senate felt like it should be there, and it ended up in the Senate version of my budget,” Keel said, adding he hasn’t spoken with any chamber leaders about the request.

Keel, a longtime SLED agent, said that after the Lieutenant Governor’s Office made the security-detail request, he came up with a budget figure, based in part on his experience serving as a SLED agent on then-Lt. Gov. Michael Daniel’s security team in the 1980s.

Under the Senate’s budget version for fiscal 2013, SLED would receive a huge total budget increase over this fiscal year’s ratified budget – a $31.5 million, or about 48 percent, hike to about $97.7 million, which includes general, federal and other funds.

The agency has lost about 150 agents in recent years with budget cuts, Keel said. The Senate version of next fiscal year’s budget would add 49 agents, including the four who would be assigned to McConnell, he said.

SLED has about 240 “Class 1” officers and 50 “Class 3” officers, which include forensic scientists, according to agency spokeswoman Kathryn Richardson.

“We’re changing the direction of SLED back to what SLED was created to do – to assist the local jurisdictions with their investigations,” said Keel, who had been director of the Department of Public Safety before Gov. Nikki Haley last year appointed him as the SLED chief.

Asked if the proposed four agents for McConnell’s security detail could be better used elsewhere in SLED, Keel replied, “I’m glad they (the Senate) have funded it in the way they have funded it because it has not taken away from what I requested.”

Keel said he believes the governor and lieutenant governor should have their own security officers, adding, “The bottom line is, these are our chief executives of our state.”

But former Gov. Sanford, who was Keel’s boss when Keel was the DPS director, didn’t feel that way when it came to extra security for the lieutenant governor. Sanford routinely vetoed budget provisos creating the security detail, though lawmakers overrode those vetoes.

“We are vetoing this proviso because we continue to believe that money directed to the Lt. Governor’s Office would be better spent on core functions of the Office on Aging, such as Meals on Wheels,” Sanford wrote in his May 2009 veto message.

“During tough budget times like these,” Sanford continued, “we believe that SLED should be focused on its essential role of law enforcement rather than subsidizing the personal security of the Lt. Governor.”

Contacted this week by The Nerve, Andre Bauer, who was the lieutenant governor during Sanford’s eight-year tenure, said at first he didn’t “have any thoughts” on the security-detail issue, noting, “That ain’t my fight.”

Asked, though, about the level of security for him while he was lieutenant governor, Bauer replied: “It varied depending on what year it was. After 9/11, I think they mandated it.”

Not every lieutenant governor has accepted extra security. Bob Peeler, for example, who served as lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2003, got rid of his security detail as one of his first official acts.

Efforts this week by The Nerve to reach Peeler were unsuccessful.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org.