April 24, 2014

Democrats question Haley campaign donation

HaleySouth Carolina Democrats are publicly challenging Gov. Nikki Haley’s financial contributions statement for this quarter. The State Ethics Commission says the governor’s filings are intact, except for what appears to a double contribution of $3,500 from the same ”Ryan Company”  at the same address in Texas.   SC Ethics Commission disclosure site.

According to an ethics commission lawyer, the donation question will appear on a flag report that will be run by the end of the month. At that point a letter is sent to all the filers who find themselves with a flag that requires additional information.  Hazelwood said the explanation could be anything from a typo to the need to refund an excess donation.

Democrats are trying to gain traction by revisiting the fact that Haley paid the commission $3,500 in fines for incomplete 2010 campaign disclosures.  Read story.

South Carolina Democratic Party chairman Jaime Harrison leveled criticism at Haley Thursday for listing some of the donor occupations as “requested.”

State law requires candidates to know and keep the occupations of all donors on file. However, commission attorney Cathy Hazelwood said occupations of contributors are not required on the quarterly listing and Haley’s campaign noted it had requested further information from some of its listed donors.

State law also requires statewide candidates to refund contributions to individual donors that exceed $3,500.

“These numbers are small numbers in comparison, but it’s not about the numbers in and of themselves, it’s about the actions that are taking place, ” Harrison said. “It seems like there is a trend that is developing with this governor. And she’s an accountant.”

South Carolina Radio Network asked the Haley campaign about the filing question.

Campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey responded, “As the ethics commission said today, there are no ethics violations here. Today’s, press conference was nonsense, and nothing more than an attempt by Democrats to distract from the new revelations that Vince Sheheen makes money by getting reduced sentences for violent criminals, including those who victimize law enforcement, woman and children, and violent drug dealers.”

The Haley campaign raised $863,416.40 the first quarter of 2014. Democrat Vincent Sheheen raised $564,248.30 and independent candidate Tom Ervin loaned himself $420,181.34 to begin his campaign.

Gov. Haley defends colleges in “gay lit” dispute

Haley and Hall

Gov. Haley and Hall

Updated 4/24/14

Governor Nikki Haley today shared her opinion of state lawmakers punishing public colleges for course content they find offensive.

“There are boards of colleges for a reason. We allow the boards and we allow the presidents make those decisions,” Gov. Haley said. ”I have never micromanaged how any college or university does anything.”

State Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, and State Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville support targeted funding in the state budget for the College of Charleston and USC-Upstate for using gay-themed literature and plays.

Fair said a satirical performance entitled, “How To Be A Lesbian In 10 Days Or Less,” presented by USC Upstate was “recruiting lesbians.”

The Upstate school backed down. The College of Charleston has not, but the political move has had a chilling effect on the new course offerings.

South Carolina Radio Network asked Haley if she felt it was appropriate to penalize colleges for what they decide to offer their students.

“That’s a board decision, it’s not a state decision,” Haley said. “So when it comes to things of higher ed, that’s the reason we have a board. That’s the reason we have a president. That’s the reason we should let them make the decisions that are in the best interests of their students.”

Democrat Vincent Sheheen, Haley’s opponent for governor, sought out administrators at USC Upstate to show his support for academic freedom earlier this week.  He accused Haley of “hiding behind a bush” on the matter.

Haley addressed this question Wednesday at an event to award the Governor’s Professor of the Year for 2014. She honored Dr. Milind Kunchur, professor of physics at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and Christopher Hall, criminal justice instructor at Central Carolina Technical College in Sumter.

Haley’s father was once a biology professor at Voorhees College in Bamberg County.

Hall told South Carolina Radio Network that the lawmakers’ action trouble him too. “I think we’ll end up slanting education. We’ll end up teaching one side of the issue and not the other, depending on which group or party is in power.”

“Often in my classroom, I find out what side of an issue a student is on and make them on purpose take the other side so that they can see the merits of both sides of a problem or issue,” Hall said.

DSS director: “I respectfully decline to resign,” while Haley, Shealy fight on Facebook (AUDIO)

Koller in hearing

Koller sits for three hours of questions

The state’s top child welfare official says she will not step down. After a long-awaited appearance in front of a special Senate panel, Department of Social Services Director Lillian Koller told media, “I respectfully decline to resign.”  That is despite two Democrats calling for her ouster as the panel probes the death of children in DSS care.

Otherwise, director Koller gave senators what they asked for: three hours of detailed testimony about how the agency handled two highly-publicized child death cases, her views on case overloads and defense of her leadership style.  Watch entire hearing here.

Immediately afterward, her boss, Gov. Nikki Haley applauded Koller. In a statement from her spokesman, Doug Mayer:

“Director Koller showed today exactly why the governor appointed her in the first place – she is a committed advocate for South Carolina’s children, and someone who has overseen dramatic improvement in an agency that deals with some of the toughest, most tragic situations in our state. Governor Haley is proud of Director Koller, the staff at DSS, and the changes they have made, changes that have resulted in a decrease in child fatalities, an increase in adoptions, and the ability to provide more services to children and families statewide than ever before.”

The real dust-up happened, however, on Facebook, where the rift between Gov. Haley and panel member (and her Senate ally) Katrina Shealy became public. Read The State’s recap. This tension had been simmering since Shealy began questioning the governor’s appointee months ago.

“Sometimes others in that process could have done more”

Lourie in committee

Lourie disagreed with some of Koller’s statistics

The panel made up of senators  Tom Young, R-Aiken, Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, and Joel Lourie, D-Richland, questioned Koller on the case of Robert Guinyard, a four-year-old who was beaten to death by his parents in 2013. Richland County Coroner Gary Watts opined in an earlier hearing that there was not enough oversight leading to his murder.

Koller disputed that, saying her agency’s wishes for the Guinyard’s parental rights to be terminated were overridden by a judge and the Richland County guardian ad litem program.

“When a tragedy like Robert’s takes place, someone has surely failed that child, first and foremost his parents who beat him to death,” Koller stated. “But sometimes others in that process as well, could have done more.”

She ordered an investigation into what happened and leveled some of the blame on law enforcement.

“The findings of the investigation…resulted in eight staff members no longer working at DSS, including many who failed to follow DSS established child protection protocol.” Koller said.

“I want you to know that we also found good work in Robert’s case, like the decision to go to court to free Robert and his sister,” she added.

AUDIO: Koller recaps Guinyard case (4:41)

This led to questioning of staff caseloads, a chronic complaint in hearings and in emails sent to the committee. Senators say they are concerned that stringent goals and statistical improvement are driving the agency–and driving workers away.

“I don’t think children should be considered goals. I think children are living, breathing human beings and not numbers,” challenged Sen. Shealy amidst scattered applause in the hearing room.

“I agree, I agree,” Koller shot back.”And if we don’t measure what we do and if we don’t be committed to improving the lives of children and we just hope and do the work and just hope it  comes out OK, you are not going to get good outcomes.”

Shealy countered,”But sometimes we let the numbers get in our way,”

“I have not done that ma’am.” Koller responded.

“Communities are a part of keeping children safe”
Another case under scrutiny involved the daycare death of 3-month-old Kellie Rynn Martin. Her mother testified that she saw the daycare listed on the DSS site.

Koller said that state law precluded DSS from inspecting the registered –not licensed– home daycare.

“We never got a complaint in seven years,” Koller said.

Prior to that, she says, there were complaints on the same home and they were corrected and “left alone.”

“We don’t get enough people calling in complaints,” Koller insisted. “Can you imagine the traffic of the parents coming and going of the parents picking these children up and dropping them off? Twenty-three children and there were supposed to be six there?”

“People need to understand that the communities are part of keeping children safe,” Koller told the senators.

Koller agreed to face the Senate panel again in two weeks.

SC Big Story: DSS director on the hot seat today


Panelists (L-R) Lourie, Young, staffer Mason Thomas, Shealy

After months of negative claims and stories about South Carolina Department of Social Services leadership, the agency’s director Lillian Koller will have her turn to answer a Senate panel’s questions.  A DSS subcommittee has been holding hearings on the death of children under DSS oversight — and many other issues have bubbled up.

Koller suffered a stroke late last year and her doctor ordered her to avoid stressful situations. A grilling by lawmakers in a what may be a hostile room could be just that.  Many who have spoken publicly are former — and fired– employees, along with distraught families who have lost a child.

Koller’s top officials have readily answered the lawmakers’ questions, citing higher rates of closed cases and better standards of case management, despite almost a 50 percent turnover in DSS county directors.

Subcommittee chairman Tom Young, R-Aiken, is known for his even, down-to-earth temperament. But recent testimony has left him impatient to hear from Koller herself.

“ There are substantial issues that have been raised and we’ve made it very clear that she needs to testify before the subcommittee.”

The Senate is currently tweaking a bill to allow DSS officials to speak more openly about the agency’s cases, if called to address a legislative investigation. Young submitted the bill to remedy case privacy issues that arose during his panel’s hearings.

– Despite the wishes of the State Board of Education, Education Superintendent Mick Zais discovered he had the power pull out of assessments related to Common Core Standards. Read his letter to the board.  Meanwhile, the House sent the Senate a bill that does the same thing. Rep. Andy Patrick (R-Hilton Head) told his colleagues “We can either adopt that assessment that is developed by somebody else or we can develop our own assessment much the same way as we did with PASS.”

– While the House is on spring break, the Senate passed a bill to require the Department of Insurance explore a catastrophe model more suited to South Carolina, instead of the Florida-based model used now.  It provides more information to homeowners to help them make better insurance purchase decisions. The measure also increases to $3 million an annual pool for low to moderate income homeowners to apply for grants to weatherize their houses.

SC Big Story: Senators race against a lawsuit and another election debacle

Sen. Larry Martin (R-Pickens)

Sen. Larry Martin says failure to fix the counties’ election setup would create havoc leading to voting day.

Senators are scrambling to fix how county election commissions are set up– because the way they were originally formed is probably unconstitutional.  Upstate voter activist Ned Sloan has sued South Carolina and the General Assembly over how lawmakers used their power to make local laws that did not apply statewide.  Single county state legislation is unconstitutional.  (READ MORE)

Sloan has changed the Legislature’s way of doing business in the past. One of his lawsuits stopped the unconstitutional practice of “bobtailing” bill together that are unrelated.

Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin , R-Pickens, wants to beat Sloan to it by undoing current county election commissions and voter registration boards.  His bill (S. 866) would have the governor appoint a joint election commission with the recommendation of the state legislators from that county.

Seven counties have split offices: Greenville, Spartanburg, Greenwood, Richland, Williamsburg, Horry and Dillon, so lawmakers are wrestling with how to allow them to stay intact.

The Senate approved an amendment that would give more weight to Senate lawmakers’ recommendations and would create more party balance. All of those have to be worked through and the bill passed along to the House before May 1, or the county boards stay as they are.  That would mean Sloan’s lawsuit moves forward and the potential for the upcoming election to be declared unconstitutional.

That kind of scenario is fresh in the minds of lawmakers, after hundred of candidates were dumped from the 2012 primary ballot over a technicality.

“If (the decision) happens right in the election cycle, which is entirely possible, we can have a real problem on our hands if the very folks who are conducting the elections are put out of business,” Martin told South Carolina Radio Network.

[Read more...]