COLUMBIA – A state ethics committee will decide whether a former Richland County recreation chief broke the law by approving increases and promotions for family members.
A hearing on the ethics charges took place on December 16, just over a week after he was cleared of criminal charges related to his tenure.
James Brown III, head of the Richland County Recreation Commission until he resigned in 2016 amid allegations of nepotism and sexual harassment, faces six counts of violating state ethics laws aimed at ensuring that public officials do not use their position for personal gain.
Five of the charges allege Brown abused his position to financially benefit his family by signing raises and promotions for his sister, brother and son, all of whom worked for the agency while Brown was a director.
A sixth charge alleges Brown inappropriately participated in disciplinary action against a family member when he signed his brother’s work suspension.
Ethics Commission attorney Courtney Laster told the six-member ethics committee that Brown broke ethics law by signing the documents for the increases and failing to complete the documents required to stand. recuse a conflict of interest. She called on commissioners to fine Brown $ 2,000 for each charge and order that he reimburse at least some of the salary increases his family received.
“He was driving this train and he should be forced to reimburse the taxpayers,” Laster told Commissioners.
An attorney for Brown said the former director’s actions had not reached the level of violating ethical guidelines and that he was only following the procedure outlined by the agency.
SC’s ethics committee heard the case after complaints were filed in 2016 by four employees who worked for Brown at the time.
The commission will issue a written decision on the charges in the coming weeks.
Brown’s attorney, Aimee Zmroczek, said her signing alone did not amount to breaking the law and that human resources policy and established pay scales determined job changes and increases.
Zmroczek and a key witness on behalf of Brown, the agency’s former director of human resources, David Stringer, established that at least some of the increases included in the ethics fee were standard increases in the cost of living included within the agency’s budget and applied to all full-time employees. employees.
Brown’s attorney called the ethics charges a “calculated attack” by employees on director Brown.
But Laster argued that some of the measures were more egregious than the standard annual increases, including Brown signing his daughter, Tiffani Brown, receiving a raise of $ 7,200 and a promotion to run a new tech hub in 2013. An employee of the commission said Brown told him his daughter would run the new center before the building was finished or the job advertised.
Laster also highlighted a $ 12,000 raise and a new recreation director awarded to Brown’s son, James Anthony Brown, in 2013 and a $ 6,000 raise for Brown’s brother, Jeff, both of whom Brown has. signed as executive director.
Brown was acquitted in a two-day criminal trial in November on charges he allegedly tried to force an employee to have sex in his office. After the verdict, state prosecutors dropped other similar charges involving other employees.
Brown’s lawyer for the criminal charges, Dayne Phillips, said Brown has been retired since resigning from the commission in 2016 amid the allegations.
Four employees represented by the same lawyer, Julius Babb, filed ethics complaints in May 2016, claiming that Brown accorded special treatment to family members who worked under him, used commission employees and equipment for his personal benefit and that he sexually harassed employees.
Ethics Commission investigators found no reason under the state’s ethics law other than to charge for raises and promotions received by family members.
Andrea James, the agency’s former finance director, said in her complaint that Brown resumed approval of purchase orders in September 2015 after James refused to approve a blank order for an employee with whom Brown allegedly been in relationship.
James told ethics commissioners Brown paid employees overtime to work on her personal property and other private property during office hours, used county vehicles for vacations and sexually harassed her while ignoring the sexual harassment complaints against her brother, who also worked at the commission.
Anthony Cooper, the commission’s purchasing director, told the ethics commission that Brown routinely went over his head to inappropriately assign projects to people he preferred, failed to follow the processes of appropriate procurement to award bids and had misused the money a general obligation of $ 50 million meant for some recreation projects.
Cooper also said Brown promoted and augmented his family members on the commission, protected his family from discipline and retaliated against employees who complained.
The allegations of nepotism were echoed by Taurus Lewis, who was the head of the recreation facilities until 2015. He said Brown bragged about his influence over board members and his political connections that would protect her job and that Brown had abused her position for sexual favors.
He also said Brown ignored calls to reform the way baseball tournament money was handled after athletic staff reported perceived shortages in bank deposits after Brown’s family members had brought the money home to count it.
Brown protected his brother, a recreation commission worker, from allegations of sexual harassment and demoted those who complained about the behavior, Brown’s former deputy manager Kenya Bryant said in his complaint.
To reach Stephane Fastenau at 803-365-3235. Follow him on Twitter @StephenFastenau.