Palmetto Sunrise: The 'one heck of an expensive meeting'

DSS Director Lillian Koller speaks to reporters following the Senate's DSS Oversight Panel hearing on Wednesday Cynthia Roldan/staff

COLUMBIA - For a second time since a Senate panel started having meetings about the Department of Social Services, the agency's chief testified about the agency's practices.

It got testy at times on Wednesday between DSS Director Lillian Koller and Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Columbia, who has been calling on Koller to resign or be fired. The hearing was just overall uncomfortable for all DSS' workers who were present at the hearing, including Koller.

But it was kind of awkward for other state agency heads as well.

Just as the hearing was kicking off, Lourie acknowledged several other agency heads that were present. He later told the Senate, in his update about the hearings, that it was "highly inappropriate" that "every head of every cabinet agency in South Carolina" sat at the hearing for 3.5 hours.

"I don't criticize these fine men and women who direct state government, but that was one heck of an expensive meeting," Lourie said. "I think it's highly inappropriate that they were asked to be there."

Lourie added he believes the only person who can ask for them to be there is Gov. Nikki Haley. He sounded off several agencies whose directors were present, including the Department of Insurance, the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon; the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, the Department of Public Safety and SLED.

"I just want you to hear from me, as one state Senator who cares like the rest of us do in this chamber, that it is very inappropriate for you to ask your cabinet to sit here when they've got more important things to do than to sit an oversight committee meeting for the second time in a row," Lourie said to Haley, while he spoke in the Senate's chambers.

Lourie then went on to share with the Senate his report on what took place during the DSS hearing earlier in the day. He encouraged other Senators to join the panel's future hearings, adding that what they'll hear is "very disturbing."

Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, noted he was present during a portion of Koller's first hearing in April, on the Senate's floor. Kimpson said he had to share with the Senate that issues at DSS are not isolated. Kimpson went on to say he had received a letter from the Charleston County DSS office that "disturbed" him.

Kimpson read out loud part of the letter that said staffers were reaching out to him as a "last resort" over the "hostile work environment created by the county director and the regional director."

The next DSS Oversight Subcommittee meeting will likely take place in two weeks, but a date has not been set yet.

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