UPDATE: Disgraced Former Councilman Steps Down From Board

January 25, 2016

Investigative Reports

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Brian DeQuinceyMayor surprised to learn of Newman’s intentions, had been told otherwise

UPDATE: As of Monday afternoon at 5:09 p.m., Brian Newman sent an email to Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin and others resigning from his position as chair of the CMRTA board, a position he told The Nerve he was keeping Sunday night and Monday morning.

A disgraced former Columbia city council member who pleaded guilty to failing to report income generated through work with the penny tax will continue to serve on a board that oversees penny tax funds, The Nerve has learned.

Former Columbia city councilman Brian DeQuincey Newman, who was arrested and pleaded guilty earlier this month for failure to file income taxes, had his law license suspended by the S.C. Supreme Court and who had a $300,000 contract with the penny tax group for right of way legal work he was not trained to do under a program that didn’t exist, will not step down as the chairman of the Central Midlands Transit Board of Directors, his attorney told The Nerve Sunday night.

Newman’s attorney Bakari Sellers said his client had no interest in resigning from the board that oversees the city bus system and is wholly funded through revenue generated by the penny tax.

“He will continue to serve,” Sellers wrote The Nerve. “There is no doubt service is in his DNA.

“He will rebuild trust in him and faith in public servants.”

When reached for comment, Columbia mayor Steve Benjamin seemed surprised at the news and said his previous understanding had been that Newman would resign his position.

“Brian has indicated to me that he plans to resign,” Benjamin told The Nerve. “I anticipate that City Council will fill the vacancy at our next meeting.”

Just five minutes before receiving Benjamin’s text, Sellers again reached out to confirm Newman’s intentions to remain in office at 10:35 p.m.

“Getting calls,” Sellers wrote.

“Brian plans on serving.”

The CMRTA has a budget of $17.3M as of FYE 2014 with revenues of $25.9 million, according to Richland County records available online. The board operates the city bus system and approves hundreds of thousands of dollars in contracts with various subcontractors including local engineering firm Davis & Floyd, which was party to Newman’s $398,000 contract with the penny tax team that included monies paid through a “mentor-protege” program the county said does not yet exist.

On Jan. 19, Newman sent an email to the CMRTA Board of Directors as chairman alerting them to the next board meeting to be held Wednesday, Jan. 27. In the email obtained by The Nerve, Newman writes “I look forward to meeting with you on the 27th.”

“Your active involvement in the work of the Comet is important and I encourage you to mark your calendar and plan to participate in the meeting. Without your consistent participation in the work of the COMET, progress will be limited.”

Robert “Bob” Liming is a former CMRTA board member who is critical of its policies and direction. Reached Sunday night, he was shocked to learn Newman would not step aside.

“Wow. I would hope city council would not put up with this,” said Liming, who worked for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism for 26 years before becoming active with the CMRTA.

“I think that’s a travesty. When any public official does not have the decency to resign after pleading guilty to a crime, when do you resign?

“It’s a crime think it’s appropriate to continue to serve as the people’s representative. That board is funded by the taxpayers he betrayed. That’s what he did. When you and I don’t pay our taxes, that’s a betrayal of public trust, especially by a public official. And just as appalling to me is that our city council would allow an individual who is guilty of tax fraud to continue in any position of public trust. Certainly, there are hundreds of citizens who could serve honorably in this position.”

Should Newman resign, taking his place would be vice chairman Kelvin Washington of Richland County Council. Washington, who owes $75,100 in state ethics fines, was arrested on the same day as Newman for willful failure to file tax returns totaling $426,000 for the previous three years as part of the ongoing Department of Revenue penny tax audit and investigation. Washington’s court date for the charges has not been set.

UPDATE: A ‘revised’ CMRTA meeting agenda was sent out Monday with Newman still listed as chair, and Sellers again confirmed Monday Newman’s desire to continue to serve.

The Nerve will post updates as this story develops.

Reach Aiken at 803-254-8809 or email him at ron@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter @RonAiken and @TheNerveSC. Have The Nerve delivered to your inbox when new stories post by clicking here.