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Former SC Housing exec received $88K for minimal work, report says

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Builders work on Grace Homes, an affordable housing project being built off Meeting Street on the Charleston peninsula, in late October. A former state housing authority official who spent nearly a year on retainer was paid $88,000 for attending a single meeting over that time. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

COLUMBIA — A former state housing authority official who spent nearly a year on retainer was paid $88,000 for attending a single meeting over that time.

The unnamed employee — a former deputy director of the Housing Development and Financing Authority — was kept on as a paid consultant from August 2017 through May 2018 to advise on organizational matters and suggest “innovative housing concepts,” according to findings in a recently issued state Inspector General report.

But the person never accessed a private network set up through his home computer to be used for that purpose, Inspector General Brian Lamkin concluded.

The separation agreement was drafted by Robert Wilson Jr., the authority’s executive director at the time, without consultation by the organization’s governing board or other state review boards, according to the report.

Details of the separation agreement were included as part of Lamkin’s report to a House panel last week looking into operations at the agency, known as SC Housing. The probe was launched following an eight-prong complaint made anonymously to lawmakers in September and forwarded to the IG’s office, including concerns about how the deal was structured.

The IGs’ office submitted its report to legislators on Nov. 8.

Established in 1977, SC Housing manages a half-billion-dollar loan portfolio and has made housing affordable for more than 150,000 people. Financed mostly through servicing fees on mortgage loans it purchases, the agency receives no legislative funding.

Current executive director Bonita Shropshire approved the separation agreement on May 16, 2018 — six days after being named its interim leader.

Lamkin said it would be unfair to hold her responsible for the incentive package.

“It’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. A lot of things are coming at you from a lot of directions, and this is just one of those things to address, and it was already in motion,” Lamkin said.

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Lamkin said board members with knowledge of the arrangement told investigators they viewed it as day-to-day operational management and didn’t feel the need to intercede.

“I can tell you, just from experience from my office, there are many boards that get into daily operations, and it is confusing to the staff as to who is running the shop,” Lamkin said.

Lamkin told a House legislative panel on Dec. 5 that neither Karen Wingo, director of the state’s human resources division under the Department of Administration, nor members of the Fiscal Accountability Authority knew of the Wilson-generated compensation plan prior to the IG’s investigation.

“Personnel settlement agreements must be presented to the state HR director for review. Bottom line,” Lamkin said.

And lump payments of more than $10,000 must be screened by the Fiscal Accountability Authority, of which Gov. Henry McMaster is chairman.

“Hindsight is always 20/20. Whether or not it would have been approved or not, I think is an unfair thing to put upon those agencies but, at the end of the day, it should have gone to them before it was executed,” Lamkin said.

Weston Newton, a Bluffton Republican and chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Lamkin's report led to state officials issuing an advisory.

"Since the execution of the agreement, state human resources has issued guidance to all state agencies that these types of agreements require prior approval to ensure taxpayers' money is appropriately expended," he said.

Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.

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