SC State board to discuss finances

Jonathan Pinson, chairman of the South Carolina State Board of Trustees, speaks during their meeting Monday at Charleston Place.

South Carolina State University's board will have its first opportunity today to publicly question the school's finance leader on how millions of dollars for the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center have been spent.

The discussion comes amid calls from two board members to conduct an audit to find out where millions of state and federal dollars that have passed through the center over the past 12 years went.

The discussion is being held in response to a June 14 Post and Courier report that revealed that 12 years after the center was launched, the site for a new building sits vacant, no transportation research is under way and the program lost its designation as a federal transportation center.

More than $50 million has flowed to the center since 1998 -- about half for transportation programs and half for the first phase of a new transportation complex to be named in honor of Clyburn, the U.S. House majority whip and a graduate of the state's only historically black public university.

John Smalls, the university's senior vice president of finance and facilities, will make a presentation at 9 a.m. today on the transportation center's finances as part of a larger discussion on the school's budget.

Finance officials have yet to explain how much of the transportation center money has been spent.

And S.C. State President George Cooper, who has held the school's top post for the past two years, has said he can't answer questions about the work of his predecessors.

The board voted June 15 not to renew Cooper's contract, which expires Wednesday.

S.C. State's board is in Charleston for a retreat, which runs through Wednesday morning at Charleston Place.

The board on Monday voted 7-5 with one abstention to hire Merl Code, a municipal judge and Greenville attorney with the Ogletree Deakins law firm, as interim president.

Seven members voted in favor of hiring Code: Earl Bridges, Lumus Byrd, Karl Green, Frederick Gallant, Martha Smith, Walter Tobin and Maurice Washington.

Board members Linda Edwards-Duncan, Robert Nance, Jonathan Pinson, Matthew Richardson and Lancelot Wright voted against hiring Code.

Trustee John Corbitt abstained.

Richardson, a Columbia attorney, voted with the majority of the board when it ousted Cooper. But he said he did that only so he could bring the matter up at a later date. Board rules prohibit a trustee on the losing side of an issue to raise that issue again.

Richardson said Monday that he plans during the first board meeting after July 1 to call for a vote to reverse the board's earlier decision to fire Cooper.

On July 1, Anderson attorney Robert Waldrep Jr. and Patricia Lott, past president of the university's alumni association, will replace trustees Byrd and Bridges, both of whom voted to fire Cooper.

Waldrep, who attended the meeting Monday, said he still is gathering information about issues concerning the university's top post. But, he added, he thinks stability is important for the school.

Lott, who also attended the meeting, said that she is an independent thinker.