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Lawmakers Consider Legislation to Rein In Recreation

Commission
BY NICK MCCORMAC

As the Richland County Recreation Commission continues its problematic ways, the
county’s legislative delegation might make another attempt to transfer control of the
commission to County Council.

The Recreation Commission is a special-purpose district with a seven-member board


appointed by the county’s legislative delegation. That’s where the lawmakers’ oversight
of the commission ends.

One issue shared among county lawmakers and council members is that while County
Council appropriates funding for the Recreation Commission, the council has little to no
say in how that money is spent and no governing power over the commission.

County legislators have attempted to transfer control of the commission to County


Council before but encountered opposition from the commission’s board, which charged
that doing so would be unconstitutional.

Republican state Rep. James Harrison of Richland says he will introduce another bill
during the next legislative session in an attempt to finally transfer power.

“It’s in council’s jurisdiction and I think they should have more oversight than they
currently do,” Harrison says. “If they fund them, they should appoint members and have
more control.”

The situation frustrates County Councilwoman Kit Smith, who describes the Recreation
Commission as an unaccountable mess.

Free Times has reported on the commission board apparently disobeying the S.C.
Freedom of Information Act several times this year by failing to specify topics it
discussed during closed-door meetings, instead labeling them “personnel” and
“contractual” matters.

Neither of those descriptions is specific enough to comply with the state FOIA, according
to Bill Rogers, director of the South Carolina Press Association, and Jay Bender, an
attorney for the association. Free Times is a member of the group.

The commission also was not forthcoming about the recent departure of interim director
Robert Redfern, nor, before his exit, the retirement of former commission director Lewis
Leopard. The agency released the details of Leopard’s retirement package, which was
standard fare, only after Free Times asked for the information pursuant to the open-
records law.
In 2005, the General Assembly passed special legislation to transfer control of the
Recreation Commission to County Council. The commission’s board sued, alleging that
the act ran afoul of the state constitution. The measure was overturned in 2007.

Harrison says he plans to craft his bill in a way that he hopes will prevent it from meeting
a similar fate.

Says state Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland and chairman of the delegation, “We’ve
met with members of the commission’s board recently and told them in no uncertain
terms to stop what they were doing.”

Having served on County Council, S.C. Rep. Joan Brady, R-Richland, says she can see
the issue from both sides. While critics charge that the board is unaccountable, Brady
says, “They’re mistaken to think that we’re not keeping an eye on them.”