Superintendent admits he’s being investigated, says he was ‘fighting for kids’

Berkeley County Superintendent Rodney Thompson.

Berkeley County schools’ superintendent acknowledged publicly for the first time Monday that he is part of a state investigation into possible ethics violations during last year’s $198 million building campaign.

“I’m the one that’s being investigated for trying to influence, or allegedly influencing, that ballot measure,” Rodney Thompson said Monday during a meeting in Cainhoy. “So you point that finger at me. You point that finger at me. But you will find I was fighting for kids in Berkeley County and our children deserve (new and renovated schools).”

Daniel Island lawyer Josh Whitley, who initiated the investigation with the state Attorney General’s Office in January, called Thompson’s comments “a step in the right direction,” but added, “Now he needs to accept responsibility for his actions.”

Attorney General Alan Wilson requested the investigation after Whitley went to him with emails, videos and other evidence he says shows that employees used district time and resources to promote the Yes 4 Schools campaign.

The State Law Enforcement Division turned over the report to Wilson’s office on Aug. 5 and the matter remains under review, Attorney General spokesman Mark Powell said Tuesday.

Employees and the district’s lawyers, Columbia-based Childs & Halligan, have refused to discuss the investigation, which does not specifically name any employees, because it is ongoing.

However, the district has spent at least $52,839 on the matter, including $22,859 paid to Childs & Halligan and $15,000 each reimbursed to Deputy Superintendent Archie Franchini and Communications Director Amy Kovach for retainers for private counsel, according to information obtained in June through a state Freedom of Information Act request. The Post and Courier requested updated figures on Sept. 25, and the district has 15 business days to reply.

Thompson’s comments Monday came at the second of two meetings to discuss potential school sites in the Daniel Island/Cainhoy area, a hot-button topic among residents.

At the Daniel Island meeting, business owner and area resident Karen McMillan said the district and the Yes 4 Schools committee were separate groups. “If you were misinformed (about new schools in the area), I think it might be because of Yes 4 Schools, not because of information from the Berkeley County School District,” she said.

At the second meeting, a man who did not give his name referenced that comment and the investigation.

Several minutes later, Thompson acknowledged his part in the investigation and added, “We’re criticized if we influence that information and we’re criticized if we don’t influence that information. But at the end of the day, the children are the ones that are the winners in this referendum.”

Whitley said he understands the importance of schools, but “There’s a right way and a wrong way to fight for children. Breaking the law for children is not morally correct or a viable defense.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or @brindge on Twitter.