Shrimpers getting some delicious news

Vince Vierra (left) and Doug Richardson sort through shrimp Monday on the deck of Wayne Magwood's Winds of Fortune on Shem Creek.

COLUMBIA — Gov. Mark Sanford dodged questions Thursday about SLED Director Reggie Lloyd's controversial response to requests to see his agency's budget, but his staff prepared a statement saying both Sanford and Lloyd are "committed to the idea of transparency."

Settling in after a European vacation and a scandal about his tryst in Argentina, Sanford huddled with staffers Thursday over Lloyd's response to a request for information about the State Law Enforcement Division's budget.

The governor and his staff declined to discuss Lloyd's news release accusing the newspaper of printing lies, whether Lloyd's reaction to an effort to access budget documents was inappropriate, or the agency's slow response to a request under the state's open records laws about how it spends tax dollars.

Two weeks after the newspaper asked for the agency's expenditures, SLED has released just a few numbers printed off a state Web site. The agency still is putting together the information, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

Current budgets should be readily available to the public without a formal request, state Press Association Attorney Jay Bender said Tuesday.

Sanford's chief of staff, Scott English, released a statement Thursday evening: "Obviously, this administration is committed to the idea of transparency, and notwithstanding all that has been reported, our conversations with Director Lloyd strongly suggest he is in fact committed to the same."

The controversy grew Monday, when Lloyd grilled a Post and Courier reporter for nearly 20 minutes over the newspaper's request to see his agency's budget documents. During his aggressive questioning, he said the budget process under his predecessor, Robert Stewart, was inadequate, and that "we spent a year and a half trying to put an accounting and budgetary system in place. It did not exist worth anything before we got here. It was a joke."

After the newspaper reported Lloyd's comments, SLED issued a news release calling the story an "absolute lie."

Lloyd's comments and his agency's strongly worded press release prompted some lawmakers, including Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell to wonder about SLED's budget. "I think the Legislature now is interested in what these records are going to show," he said Wednesday.

SLED's operations haven't exactly been put under a microscope. The Legislative Audit Council, for instance, has done thorough investigations into nearly every major state agency and committee, often finding serious management problems and inefficiencies. But SLED, so far, has yet to appear on the audit council's radar.

"It's one of the largest ones we've not been in," said Thomas J. Bardin,director of the audit council.

At least five state lawmakers must ask for an investigation before the council's auditors go to work. The council is auditing the Employment Security Commission for the first time, he said.

Since 1993, SLED has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies. The accreditation process typically involves a rigorous independent examination of an agency's policies and procedures. The group renewed SLED's accreditation in 2008.

Bo Petersen and Yvonne Wenger contributed to this report. Reach Tony Bartelme at 937-5554 or tbartelme@postandcourier.com.