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Richland assistant solicitor named head of South Carolina Ethics Commission

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COLUMBIA — Meghan Walker, an assistant solicitor in Richland and Kershaw counties, will become director of the State Ethics Commission on Friday, the agency chairman told The Post and Courier.

Walker will run a 12-person agency that oversees campaign, financial and lobbyist disclosures and investigates civil complaints against public officials and candidates. She will succeed Steve Hamm, who has been the interim director since March. 

Hamm, who also led the state's consumer protection agency for 13 years, and Barry Bernstein, the chief of staff for S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson, were the other finalists for the post that currently pays $83,660 a year, commission chairman Brian Barnwell said Tuesday. 

John Crangle, a longtime government watchdog who works with the S.C. Progressive Network, questioned how ethics commissioners could pass over two veteran attorneys for a less-experienced prosecutor who specializes in criminal cases. The agency handles civil cases.

"I'm not sure what particular qualifications she has for this," Crangle said. "They're highly qualified people who did not get the job. It's puzzling to me why she was picked."

Walker was chosen because of her vision for the agency's future, including updating the website with more search functions and offering additional training for candidates to use the campaign filing system, Barnwell said. Ethics commissioners also were impressed with the motto Walker says she follows in prosecuting cases: "Do the right thing, at the the right time, for the right reason," he said.

Walker, a 33-year-old Columbia native, referred questions to state ethics commissioners Tuesday when asked about Crangle's comments about her qualifications. 

She said she specialized in violent crime cases during her nearly seven years at the 5th Circuit Solicitor's Office, participating in more than 25 trials. She said she also handled some white-collar cases. Before joining the solicitor's office, the 2009 University of South Carolina law school graduate worked for less than a year in the state Attorney General's Office focusing on gangs.

Walker said she sought the ethics job because of its importance in keeping an eye of public officials and employees. 

"I look forward to serving the people of South Carolina," she said.

Walker arrives at the agency two years after the General Assembly revamped ethics laws, including adding more economic disclosure by public officials and having the commission look at complaint filed against state lawmakers.

The S.C. Statehouse corruption probe that has led to indictments of six current and former legislators also has put a spotlight on enforcing wrongdoing by public officials. 

"We understand how we are in the public eye," Barnwell said. "We think Meghan has the energy and ability to do this."

Hamm, who Crangle thought should have gotten the job, will remain at the ethics agency for a short period to help with Walker's transition, Barnwell said.

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