A mysterious group that calls itself “The People for a Better Lexington” has sent a letter to the South Carolina State Ethics Commission requesting an investigation of Lexington County Council Chairman Johnny Jeffcoat.
The group alleges that Jeffcoat:
- “Improperly used his position as an elected official on County Council to secure high-paid employment for himself in the Town of Lexington. His specific employment position is the only one that exists in the Town of Lexington.”
- “He has used his official office to secure annual pay increases for his town position that were above and beyond what was available to town employees.”
- “He has also secured the privilege of telecommuting, with this benefit of working from home being denied to other town employees.”
- “As such, we are alleging that Councilman Jeffcoat violated the state’s ethics laws, including S.C. Code Ann. Section 8-13-700 (A) and (B), which prohibit elected officials from knowingly using their official office to obtain an economic interest for themselves and from influencing a governmental decision in which they have an economic interest.”
In looking into the allegations and securing information from the Town of Lexington, Lake and Main has determined that allegations by the secretive “People for a Better Lexington” are not true and are likely politically motivated.
The first point that must be addressed is the individuals in and behind this group. It must be noted that no names are included in the letter to the State Ethics Commission. The copy of the letter obtained from the Ethics Commission had no signatories. The only clue is a newspaper report identifying Mr. Wes Howard as “spokesman” for the group.
”’identities are being kept secret by its leadership to prevent political retribution – are upset about taxes and other decisions, Howard said. It has a 50 members, including business owners and county employees, he said.
The group sent a letter rather than initiating a formal complaint. According to state law, to file a formal complaint calling for an investigation, the group would be required to fill out a formal complaint form. The form must be signed by the complainant(s). Clearly, the “People for a Better Lexington” wanted to remain anonymous.
It is another part of the form that is the most telling. On the document is this warning:
“All investigations, inquiries, hearings, and accompanying documents must remain confidential until a finding of probable cause or dismissal unless the respondent waives the right to confidentiality. The willful release of confidential information is a misdemeanor, and any person releasing such confidential information, upon conviction, must be fined not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000) or imprisoned not more than one year. Section 8-13-320(10)(g).” [emphasis added]
This means the “People for a Better Lexington” could not advertise their charges against Mr. Jeffcoat, robbing them of publicity.
This indicates that the purpose of the letter wasn’t so much an effort to actually have an investigation, but to be a public medium for promoting a negative campaign against Mr. Jeffcoat.
The timing of the letter is interesting. Mr. Jeffcoat is not seeking reelection to the County Council. The letter comes as a campaign begins to oppose a county referendum to raise the sales tax by one cent. Efforts by anti-tax groups have centered on creating a patina of corruption on council members to further their particular agenda.
The theme of this letter is very similar to attacks by the out-of-state group Americans for Progress and their South Carolina subset, Lexington County Citizens Watch. LCCW has also been tied to a Facebook page called Lexington Watch Dogs (formerly called Eliminate the 2% Hospitality Tax. More about it in a later post). There is speculation that Lexington County Council candidate Dino Teppara was involved in the writing of the letter. L&M asked for comment from Mr. Teppara, who is running for Mr. Jeffcoat’s seat. (UPDATE: 25 Feb) In response, Mr. Teppara told L&M that all the organizations to which he belongs are listed on his website.
Mr. Howard, a Lexington political gadfly, is a vocal opponent to tax increases and a member of Lexington County Citizens Watch. He ran unsuccessfully as a Republican petition candidate for the District 3 seat on the Lexington County Council.
There are numerous inaccuracies in the group’s letter and Lake and Main will present them in subsequent posts.