CONFLICTS OF INTEREST ALLEGED …
We’ll be honest … until recently, we had no idea that Lexington County was one of only a handful of counties in the Palmetto State to elect its register of deeds. In the other thirty-one counties, this administrative position falls under the purview of the clerk of court. In another nine counties, the position falls under county government.
Six counties elect the position …
Frankly, the appointment arrangement seems to be a better arrangement as far as we’re concerned … but then again we obviously haven’t devoted all that much thought to the issue.
Anyway, since there is a contested election for this seat we figured we probably ought to write about it.
Currently, five candidates have filed for this office – which exists to “record, maintain and preserve all land records for the County and make them readily available for public viewing.”
The incumbent – Debra Gunter – is not among them. She is stepping down following the November election after twenty years in office.
The candidates are to replace her as follows: Attorney Rich Bolen, property investor and political activist Mike Green, Lowcounty tax collector Dan Gregory (who ran for the post four years ago while living in Lexington County), businesswoman Tina Guerry and Gilbert, S.C. legal assistant Joyce Munsch.
Judging by the signs we’ve seen across Lexington (where our founding editor Will Folks has chosen to locate his world headquarters), Guerry is the runaway frontrunner for this post. Her signs are everywhere.
Guerry is also the primary beneficiary of a brewing scandal involving her top two competitors – Bolen and Green.
According to documents obtained by FITS, Bolen and Green are business partners in a real estate investment company called AH Holdings, LLC. For tax purposes, this company is officially headquartered in Utah – although last January it petitioned to do business in the Palmetto State (with both Bolen and Green signing the requisite paperwork at the S.C. Secretary of State’s office).
It’s odd that two people in business together would be running against each other, right?
Sure … but honestly: Why should we care?
Well, the office they are running for handles real property transactions, deeds, liens, mortgage taxes – even deed transfers from owners to banks during the foreclosure process.
“The office has the duty to record and maintain these types of records with accuracy and integrity, so if a person has an outside business interest being privy to this type of information (means) that they could gain financially from the office,” one concerned citizen told us.
Neither Bolen nor Green disclosed their business association on economic interest documents filed with the S.C. State Ethics Commission.
In addition to his real estate investment partnership, Bolen is also an attorney who practices real estate law. In fact he owns a title search company – which could very easily be seen as a conflict of interest with the register of deeds office.
S.C. Code of Laws § 8-13-700 mandates that candidates must disclose any potential conflict of interest with the office they are seeking. Furthermore, S.C. Code of Laws § 8-13-730 states that “no person may serve as a member of a governmental regulatory agency that regulates any business with which that person is associated.”
Seems to us that both Bolen and Green should have disclosed their corporate connections when they filed to run for office. Not only do they both appear to have a clear conflict, but their joint business association raises all sorts of questions. Chief among them: Are their two campaigns colluding so as to maximize their chance of victory?
Because that would be all sorts of illegal …
We’ve had limited experience in the past with both Bolen and Green. Personally, we like both gentlemen just fine – and to be fair to each, their public statements regarding the plans they have for this office strike us as eminently sensible. Conservative, even.
But the nature of their undisclosed private sector activities raises some serious questions regarding their reason for seeking this office.
In fact, we wouldn’t dream of commending either candidate to our Lexington County neighbors unless they first agreed to divest themselves any business entanglement potentially impeding their ability to impartially discharge the duties of this office.