State legislators have reprimanded an agency tasked with representing the interest of minorities in South Carolina.
A bipartisan Legislative Oversight Committee said last month it had “no confidence” the Commission for Minority Affairs is “efficiently or effectively fulfilling its mission.”
“I think (the Commission) is an excellent idea,” State Rep. Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said. “I just don’t believe the CMA is focusing on its main function and has rather gotten distracted.”
The LOC is tasked with reviewing each state agency as part of a rotation schedule. This year was the CMA’s turn. Lawmakers on the committee heard from agency staff and the public and reviewed its operations and documents as part of the review process.
In its report, the committee said CMA has strayed from its original purpose — gathering data on minorities in South Carolina and the disparities they face. The report says the agency has compiled only four such reports in the past five years, despite similar warnings signs in a 2015 audit.
The report also noted the CMA was required by a 2008 law to set up a hotline to report immigration law violations, but has still not done so. Agency Executive Director Thomas Smith said the agency is working with a nonprofit called Polaris to partner on a national human trafficking hotline and signed an memorandum of understanding last year.
Legislators also expressed concern about a nonprofit which receives much of its funding from CMA despite several employees serving on its board. The SC Micro-Enterprise Network (SCMEN) has received more than $120,000 from CMA over the past four years, including money which covered nearly the entire cost of its annual conference. The report notes best practices for nonprofits are to avoid having employees of a funding group serve on its board.
Smith, who plans to retire from the job at month’s end, defended his agency at a meeting with the committee last month. He said the agency is trying to offer programs to help those minorities marginalized in social or economic means.
“I wouldn’t say we have been excellent in every way, but the mission is great,” he said. “The work is great. The need is great and becoming greater.”
The report said the commission is divided and struggling to function. It recommended the governor replace the board members, who would be responsible for picking Smith’s replacement.
LOC members voted 12-1 in favor of the report’s findings. The one no vote was State Rep. Joe Jefferson, D-Pineville.