It is usually not good policy to name a jail after inmates

Former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts walks outside federal court in Columbia on Dec. 30. Metts, 68, pleaded guilty in a federal bribery conspiracy case.

So last week the Lexington County Council decided to change the name of the James R. Metts Law Enforcement Complex, which houses the local jail and sheriff’s office.

That was probably a good idea, seeing as how Metts — sheriff of the Midlands county for the past 42 years — recently pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiring to harbor illegal immigrants.

Yeah, oops.

Lexington County is extremely conservative, even by South Carolina standards, so imagine their embarrassment — and outrage — when their longtime, celebrated sheriff is accused of accepting bribes from a restaurant owner to keep his employees, who were here illegally, out of jail. And in the country.

Now lawmakers have deftly followed suit and are talking about taking Metts’ name off a boat landing they renamed in his honor 12 years ago.

Seems prudent.

Of course, neither the Legislature nor the county would be in this pickle if they had had the good sense years ago to follow the lead of many other states and not name buildings, bridges, roads — or anything else — after people who are still alive.

Because you never know.

Politicians love to name things after their colleagues.

You can’t sling a dead cat in this state without hitting a road, bridge or building named after some past or current public official.

It is so common most people probably don’t even think about it. But if you tried to give directions from Wando High School to West Ashley High, you would tell ’em to take Mark Clark over James B. Edwards, through Lonnie Hamilton, over Gen. William C. Westmoreland to Paul Cantrell, which quickly turns into Glenn McConnell.

Now, fortunately, this is not a problem. There’s not a James Metts in that bunch, and few people would argue that any of those men did not deserve recognition.

Lawmakers have long argued that they do such things to honor public servants while they are still around to appreciate it. You can bet Cousin Arthur is proud of his bridge.

And former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer probably also appreciates the little patch of highway outside of Columbia named after him. And although he is no Metts, he did get a few monster speeding tickets while driving around with “SC 2” tags.

You think anyone would drive slow on Richard Petty Boulevard?

Several years ago, state Rep. Wendell Gilliard proposed a state law that would ban the Legislature from naming anything after a person who was still breathing — and thus still capable of doing something to bring shame to whatever is named after him or her.

He got crickets.

“It goes to show you, every time you come up with an idea, it’s kill the messenger,” Gilliard says. “I’m a staunch believer in this, even if no one else is.”

Now, there are plenty of other lawmakers who feel the same as Gilliard.

Just not a majority of them, evidently.

Perhaps they think why bother since death does little to prevent some politicians from causing trouble. Right now, Clemson is having quite the row over Tillman Hall, named after the former governor, U.S. senator and one of the founders of Cow College.

What’s the problem with Pitchfork Ben Tillman? Well, let’s just say he would not have cottoned to most of the Tigers’ current starting line-up.

Honestly, it sometimes does not even benefit these folks to have something named after them. If he had it all to do over again, you can bet Congressman Jim Clyburn would just as soon S.C. State University’s transportation center was named after someone else.

Seeing as how the money was apparently lost in transit.

For now, this Metts thing is just an embarrassment for Lexington County. But nearly every county in the state has a similar story, just hopefully not one quite so ironic.

Fact is, as long as lawmakers name things after their colleagues, they are rolling the dice and daring “The Daily Show” to come calling.

“It’s going to happen again and again,” Gilliard says. “When are we going to do something about it?”

Uh, probably when modesty becomes a popular trait among politicians.

Which will be never.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.