WMBF INVESTIGATES: Nearly 30 public officials, candidates summoned by ethics commission in past year

Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 8:17 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) - Since January 2020, at least 29 individuals have been sent notices of hearings by the state’s agency that works to enforce the Ethics Reform Act.

Following the revelation that Horry County Council Chairman Johnny Gardner faces multiple allegations of ethics violations related to campaign disclosures, WMBF Investigates sought out which other public officials faced allegations.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | Horry County Council chairman faces 6 ethics complaints in connection to campaign contributions

Documents obtained show city council members, school board trustees, sheriff’s candidates, and various other figures across South Carolina have been called by the State Ethics Commission for hearings in Columbia.

At least three additional individuals from the Grand Strand and Pee Dee areas have approaching hearing dates this year.

Birt Adams, who ran against Georgetown County Sheriff Carter Weaver in 2020, has a hearing date set for June.

Documents show Weaver is listed as the one who filed the complaint.

Adams is accused of two violations: failing to file a statement of economic interests prior to the close of filing for the June election, and failing to file a pre-election campaign disclosure report at least 15 days before the election.

WMBF Investigates attempted to reach out to Adams for comment, but have not heard back. Sheriff Weaver also declined to comment on the case.

Georgetown City Council candidate Sheldon A. Butts has also received a notice of hearing after documents allege he failed to file a 2019 pre-election campaign disclosure report.

Butts told WMBF Investigates he submitted the paperwork late, and it was unintentionally done.

He also said he’s working to resolve the matter with the commission before his hearing date in April.

The other notice of hearing names Derrick Echols, who served on Florence School District 4′s Board of Trustees.

Documents allege he did not file a statement of economic interests from 2017-2019, resulting in three violation counts.

Echols did not wish to provide comment on the matter ahead of his scheduled hearing date in April.

It is a process to arrive at the point of receiving a notice of hearing.

The commission takes in complaints from the public on any public official, and it can also file complaints of its own.

According to the commission’s website, the individuals named are notified of the complaint, and if the commission sees a sufficient amount of facts, it begins an investigation.

If those results conclude there is probable cause, the commission orders a hearing. If someone is found guilty of an alleged violation, the commission can recommend administrative or disciplinary action; issue a public warning or reprimand; order restitution; and levy a civil penalty of up to $2,000.

Not all ethics violation cases end up in a hearing, though. Many enter into a consent order, according to the commission.

The commission told WMBF Investigates that during the fiscal year 2018-2019, it resolved 72 cases. Of that number, 37 of those cases went to a hearing.

The following year, 35 cases were resolved, with 15 of them going to a hearing.

The commission says the ongoing pandemic affected its hearing process capabilities.

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