Surfside Beach councilman requests Ethics Commission drop fine

Surfside Beach councilman requests Ethics Commission drop fine
Surfside Beach councilman Randle Stevens (Source: Surfside Beach Town Council website)

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A Surfside Beach councilman Thursday requested the state ethics commission waive a $2,150 fine the commission imposed after he was found to have violated state ethics laws.

Randle Stevens was found to have violated ethics laws in connection with a 2016 town council general election. He was fined by the commission and publicly reprimanded. The violations were accepting an anonymous campaign contribution of truck wrap signage, failing to file a pre-election campaign disclosure report in a timely fashion and failure to disclose two in-kind contributions and two in-kind expenditures.

Stevens’ expense disclosures, which involves copies of flyers made, total $9, according to filings.

Stevens was a candidate in the April 5, 2016 election and the runoff on April 19, 2016.

During his appeal at a meeting Thursday in Columbia, Stevens told a panel of commissioners he believes his constitutional rights were violated, arguing that he has a right to a jury trial and that the fine levied is excessive.

He admitted to making an "oversight" and requested the commission drop the fine, which he said he cannot afford to pay.

Courtney Laster, the commission’s general counsel, said Stevens was not entitled to a jury trial in this case and that he was entitled to the process offered in the Ethics Act, "which he was given," that includes a hearing before a panel, an opportunity to be heard and the opportunity to present evidence.

She said the commission has a right to impose fines as long as the penalties fall within statutory limits set forth in the law.

Arnold Garguilo, a Surfside Beach resident, had filed a complaint with the ethics commission and a hearing followed in Columbia on Aug. 16, 2018.

Stevens testified at that hearing a wrap for his truck was left at his home a few days before the election and he didn’t know who made it or left it for him. He said he did use the vehicle wrap before the election.

According to the commission, Stevens violated state law by accepting an anonymous contribution.

He originally faced up to a $12,000 civil penalty in addition to a $650 administrative fee. The ruling delivered to Stevens said he had six months to pay the $2,150 fine, which includes the administrative fee, or he must pay the full $12,650 penalty. Laster pointed out Thursday the commission did not impose the maximum fine.

Stevens maintains he has been unfairly targeted. He said he plans on filing a lawsuit against Garguilo. He said he will not run for reelection, citing his belief “in term limits.”

The commission will make a decision on the appeal.

Stevens has also been accused of undue influence to help a friend. The complaint, filed by town resident Steve Shore, says the councilman asked the town construction appeals board to grant a friend a ruling regarding fill dirt in 2018. A letter sent to Stevens by the commission said the commission determined “probable cause exists to support the alleged violation.” A hearing on the matter will take place on May 16 in Columbia.

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