South Carolina’s Democratic gubernatorial ticket is wading into an unfolding battle between a powerful Republican lawmaker and the gubernatorially appointed leader of a key government oversight agency.
Earlier this week, we reported on the fireworks between S.C. Senate president Hugh Leatherman – arguably the most powerful elected official in the Palmetto State – and Tim Hofferth, chairman of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education (SCCHE).
Leatherman and Hofferth are embroiled in a major spat over the legitimacy of a $91,487 salary increase awarded to SCCHE executive director Jeff Schilz. For several months, Schilz has been sounding the alarm over astronomical increases in higher education tuition (and higher education debt) in South Carolina.
This news outlet has consistently supported Schilz in his efforts, however we believe his pay raise – while likely legal – was totally inappropriate. And totally tone-deaf. Furthermore, we believe it seriously undermines SCCHE’s future credibility as an advocate for reforming the Palmetto State’s bloated and duplicative higher education system – which we have long argued should be privatized.
Leatherman? He believes Schilz’s pay raise was illegal – and has said so in public on several occasions. Leatherman’s declarations have led Hofferth to threaten the legislative leader with legal action.
“Your loathsome and despicable attempt to slander and defame me with these false and ridiculous allegations are not only contemptible, but your conduct has also caused and will continue to cause irreparable harm to me and my reputation,” Hofferth wrote in a letter to Leatherman earlier this week.
Sources tell us Hofferth is prepared to move forward with a lawsuit against the legislative leader.
On Wednesday, Democratic gubernatorial nominee James Smith and his running mate – state representative Mandy Powers Norrell – entered the fray on Leatherman’s side. Specifically, the duo called on incumbent Republican governor Henry McMaster to fire Hofferth.
“Henry McMaster should immediately fire chairman Tim Hofferth,” Smith said in a statement. “That’s what would happen if I were governor.”
Smith went on to say that while Schilz’s controversial pay raise has been rescinded – apparently at McMaster’s request – its initial authorization should have been enough to warrant Hofferth’s immediate termination. His campaign also questioned whether Hofferth is shooting the public straight regarding the circumstances surrounding the massive salary bump.
According to a release from the Smith-Norrell campaign, “Hofferth can’t get his story straight on how (the pay raise) happened.”
“First, he said (it) was approved unanimously … in executive session,” the release stated. “Then, possibly realizing that would be illegal, he said it wasn’t in executive session.”
SCCHE commissioners have stated they have no recollection of approving Schilz’s pay increase – either in or out of executive session.
Whatever happened, Smith said Hofferth “needs to go.”
“It is outrageous to have someone suddenly, capriciously and unaccountably raised to $257,767 a year at a time when tuitions are sky-high, and when most state employees’ salaries not keeping up with increases in their health insurance and pension contributions,” Smith said. “Anyone who would take such an action, and then ferociously defend it, should not be in a position of power in state government for another minute.”
Our view? As noted above, our news outlet has been consistently supportive of the work Hofferth and Schilz are doing at SCCHE. The data they have been releasing to the public has served as a vital check against a corrupt system – one that has strayed far afield of its original mission, and one which we believe never should have been institutionalized as a core function of government in the first place.
Having said that, to say that poor judgment was demonstrated in the awarding this pay raise would be a colossal understatement. Hofferth and Schilz clearly should have known better, and it seems increasingly as though both will pay for their poor judgment with their jobs.
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