Legislators are investigating whether the man who has led South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources for the past eight years was improperly forced out.
DNR director John Frampton said earlier this year that he planned to retire in March. However, the agency’s board of directors– which is appointed by the governor– asked him to move his retirement up to January so they could take the agency in a new direction.
But two board members who support Frampton accused the other five members of conspiring to oust the director. In an unusually confrontational Dec. 8 meeting (watch video here), John Evans and Norman Pulliam convinced other board members not to accept Frampton’s resignation letter, saying they had been left out of several phone conversations between the other board members and that such conversations could have violated the state’s open meetings laws.
During the meeting, Frampton said Chairwoman Caroline Rhodes had asked him to quit. That angered Evans and Pulliam, who questioned how she could do that without a formal vote by the board.
The accusations prompted state Sen. John Land (D-Clarendon) to write a letter to Senate leaders requesting that legislators look into the board’s actions. Now, the Senate Fish, Game, and Forestry Committee is getting involved. Chairman Ronnie Cromer (R-Newberry) sent a formal request Monday for information from Rhodes and others at DNR.
“We thought the best way to approach this was to try to get all the facts before we had any hearings,” Cromer told South Carolina Radio Network.
Cromer said he’s not sure if the board acted improperly or not, but wants to make sure. “All I know right now is what I saw on the video,” he said, referring to streaming video of the board’s meeting, “Based on the video, there were several misunderstandings and hurt feelings, I could tell, amongst the board members. I’m not sure if there’s anything there or not. That’s why we’re trying to do this investigation.”
Cromer hoped that Rhodes would respond to the request, saying he wanted to avoid contentious high-profile hearings such as what happened with the state’s environmental agency three weeks ago that eventually led to four members of Gov. Nikki Haley’s staff being subpoenaed.