Controversy over whether a deputy could also be a school board member caused a candidate to drop out of an election in Colleton County.

But long-simmering racial tensions also played a role.

Paul Haase, a Colleton County deputy, also serves on the school board. He was up for re-election to his third term in November.

The Rev. Jack Lewis, president of the county's NAACP chapter, informed the school board this spring that Haase holding both positions violates the state's ban on dual-office holding. Haase also has served as a school-resource officer.

Haase said he didn't see how a deputy, who is not elected, qualified as an office.

The law isn't all that clear, stating simply, "No person may hold two offices of honor or profit at the same time."

This summer, Lewis showed up at a school board meeting with an opinion from Attorney General Alan Wilson that being both a deputy and a school board member was dual office holding. Wilson also said only a court could remove an alleged violator from office.

Haase said he disagreed with the attorney general's opinion but would step down if a judge said he was violating the law.

Lewis said he would file a suit before the election for a judge to make a ruling.

Before that could happen, Haase sent out a letter Sept. 23 saying he was dropping out of the race.

"Time has been spent researching the issue and although a court of law has not given a ruling on the issue I feel as though the focus of the school board has been shifted," he said. "I serve on the school board to make a difference in our education system. Our time at meetings should be spent focusing on the serious issues not questions (about) my intentions. I want the School Board to not be bogged down by this issue therefore I have decided to notify the election commission to remove my name from the ballot as I will not be seeking a third term."

Haase was sick and not able to talk on the phone much when asked about his decision Friday.

"A lot of people said they were sorry to see me go," he said. "The letter I sent out speaks for itself."

Lewis called Haase's decision a small victory.

"If it was never brought to the public's attention, he would have run for re-election," Lewis said.

Both men acknowledged that there was more to the controversy than questions over dual-office holding

Lewis had vowed to get Haase off the school board before dual-office holding became a public issue.

Haase and three other board members voted to fire the previous superintendent in March. Lewis said Leila Williams' removal was racially motivated and vowed to make sure those who voted against her would not be re-elected.

He brought up the issue of dual office holding not long afterward.

Two others are running for Haase's fourth-district seat.

Darlene Miller, retired from the Department of Defense in Detroit, said she didn't enter the race because of the controversy but considered it a problem.

"You're supposed to be upholding the law, and you're breaking the law," she said. "What kind of example are you setting for the children? ... I'm trying to give the children what they deserve, which is the undivided attention of the school board."

Cynthia Roberts, a skin-care specialist, calls herself a friend of the Haase family and was never bothered that Haase was both a deputy and school board member.

"That's the least of my worries," she said. "We have to get our kids writing in cursive at this point. Focusing on those issues has nothing to do with bettering Colleton County's kids."

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.