In what is likely a preview of upcoming legislation next week, the South Carolina House voted Tuesday to replace the board of trustees at financially struggling South Carolina State University.
The budget amendment approved in a unanimous voice vote Tuesday would only last for a year and would not take effect until July. So it is likely that lawmakers will hold a similar vote on stand-alone legislation next week. The amendment would replace the Board of Trustees with a five-member panel appointed by the State Fiscal Accountability Authority (previously known as the Budget and Control Board).
“This amendment creates an opportunity for stability at South Carolina State University,” State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said on the House floor during Tuesday’s debate. Cobb-Hunter expressed frustration that the House had tried restructuring the board three years ago, but were stymied by SC State alumni in the Senate.
But the House’s only SC State alum State Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, insisted that alumni had been sounding the alarm about problems at the state’s only public historically-black college for years. Govan said the legislature shared in the blame for problems at the school. “We needed to address some issues… address some Board of Trustees members who weren’t doing the right thing, who weren’t competent,” Govan said. “But this body continued to send them over and over again.”
The vote occurred as the school trustees met in yet another executive session Tuesday. The planned teleconference meeting dealt with changing the school’s organizational structure, but also featured a section closed to the public as the trustees discussed a “personnel matter.” About three hours after the House vote, the trustees voted 5-2 for “no confidence” in suspended president Thomas Elzey (two members abstained from voting).
Elzey was placed on administrative leave by the board last month, but has been fighting his suspension. He filed a lawsuit last week, arguing he was being wrongfully terminated. A state judge ordered the board not to fire Elzey until a replacement board takes over and reconsiders his future.
The Senate passed a similar version of the bill that has been placed on the House agenda. The Senate version would also appoint a five-member replacement board, but it would be chosen by legislators rather than the Fiscal Accountability Authority.
State Rep. Lonnie Hosey, D-Barnwell, retired as a recruitment director from SC State in 2010. He said Tuesday’s vote needed to happen for the good of the school. “If this (effort) had never happened, we would have still been going down the road kicking the can,” he said on the House floor. “Then, all of a sudden, click-clock, we would’ve ran into a brick wall.”