A former member of the Berkeley County School Board filed a complaint with the state Attorney General's Office on Friday against the current board over what he calls a "misuse of public funds."
Terry Hardesty, who served on the board from 2006 to 2010, warned at the March 24 board meeting that he would file the objection if the district continues to pay legal fees for three employees under investigation in connection with the 2012 Yes 4 Schools campaign, during which voters approved $198 million to build and renovate schools. The investigation has been ongoing for 15 months.
In his letter to the attorney general, Hardesty asked for an investigation into whether the board is using public funds for private purposes and whether the board is hindering the investigation. Hardesty said he believes the employees should be represented by a public defender if they cannot afford their own counsel.
Attorney General spokesman Mark Powell said Friday his office has received the letter and it's under review.
The complaint is aimed at any board member who is not on record as being against paying the fees, Hardesty said. That would include all board members except Phillip Obie II.
Obie has said at board meetings and in prior interviews that he is against paying the fees. He said Friday that he has been "brushed off" when he has tried to get other board members to discuss it.
The board has maintained that it is legally responsible for paying the fees because the employees - Communications Director Amy Kovach, Superintendent Rodney Thompson and Deputy Superintendent Archie Franchini - were acting in good faith. Kovach was indicted Feb. 11 on a count of "Violation of Ethics Act: Use of Public Funds to Influence the Outcome of an Election," and has since been on paid leave from her job, where she makes about $80,000 annually.
So far, the investigation has cost the district $57,614 in fees to the district law firm of Childs & Halligan plus $78,385 for independent counsel for the three employees.
In February, the board voted to hire retired Circuit Judge Victor Rawl to give them an opinion on whether Kovach was acting in the "course and scope of her employment" and if she was acting in good faith. Rawl said Thursday he is still reviewing information.
In his letter, Hardesty said involving Rawl is "an attempt to buy (Kovach's) silence. Amy Kovach's attorney is being paid by the entity who may have director Dr. Rodney Thompson, Archie Franchini, and Ms. Kovach to carry out the campaign in the manner we saw. This smacks of nothing but a cover-up."
Hardesty, former school board member Scott Marino and lawyer Josh Whitley originally took concerns about referendum to the Attorney General's office that resulted in investigation. Hardesty, who is chairman of the Berkeley County Republican Party, also sued school board chairman Kent Murray last year after Murray prevented Hardesty from talking about the investigation during public comments at a board meeting. That suit was settled for $65,000.
"I have offered them an opportunity to back out of what I perceive of them as doing wrong on numerous occasions and they've never taken me up on it," Hardesty said Friday. "I'm a little bit frustrated that I always have to go to a higher authority for something to happen which ought to be happening to begin with."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.
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