One day after this news outlet posted our story on Beaufort County treasurer Maria Walls‘s bombshell lawsuit accusing auditor James “Jim” Beckert of stalking and threatening her, a county councilman is seeking to take action.
In an email titled “Troubling Issue,” Beaufort County Councilman Michael Covert asked Administrator Ashley Jacobs and Chairman Joe Passiment if Beckert’s office can be moved off-campus.
Covert said he had been “doing some thinking” about what can be done considering the “recent public notice of a lawsuit” between Walls and Beckert.
“What ‘can’ be done by the County is to relocate the Auditor’s office and employees to another building location off campus,” Covert wrote. “This would serve the County well; it would serve Mr Beckert well and it would certainly serve Mrs. Walls and the Treasurer’s Office well.”
Walls’ lawsuit accuses Beaufort County of systemically protecting Beckert and his bully-like, abusive behavior toward not only her, but other county employees — particularly female employees.
The accusations beg the question: Does Beaufort County — the richest county in South Carolina — have issues with female leadership? Or, at the very least, is it falling short of protecting its female leaders and other women in its employ from unwanted harassment?
“One might ask, ‘Why does HE have to move?'” Covert wrote. “Simple— The Treasurer’s Office has public monies and other very pertinent information about investments etc in her possession. That and those items should be in the same building as County Administration.”
Sources close to the situation told FITSNews it is likely other victims will come forward following Walls’ lawsuit — which they say accurately reflects the good ole boy system’s treatment of female leaders. This treatment is said to continue even after the county hired its first female administrator in 2019.
The current Beaufort County council consists of ten men and one woman. Sources say many male council members repeatedly failed to take the complaints against Beckert seriously. In South Carolina, county council members can vote to ask the governor to remove an elected official from office.
The lawsuit was filed “after years of Beckert harassing, bullying, defaming and threatening Walls.”
“For six years, I, as well as other women, have experienced physical intimidation, harassment and assault inflicted upon us by the Beaufort County Auditor, Jim Beckert,” Walls wrote in a statement to FITSNews. “For six years, I, as well as other women, have sought guidance and/or relief from the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, County Council members, multiple County Administrators, multiple County Attorneys, the Human Resource Department, outside attorneys, State officials and others to no avail.”
Walls, a certified public accountant, was elected to her current office in 2014 after serving for four years as deputy treasurer. After her first year as an elected official, she was named “office holder of the year” by Thomson Reuters for “having achieved excellence in planning, leadership and service” in Beaufort County. The following year, the SCGOP awarded Walls its top local government honor.
“It has been disheartening and appalling that so many would be aware of this inappropriate behavior and do nothing collectively to deter or prevent it,” Walls said in her statement to FITSNews. “The inaction has not just resulted in continued suffering but the thievery of the taxpayers’ resources and the loss of outstanding professionals.”
She said “this type of conduct is indefensible.”
“For ten years, I have fought for what is right for the taxpayers of Beaufort County and now I am fighting for what is right for the women employed by Beaufort County,” Walls said.
The lawsuit meticulously describes —and includes photos of — numerous situations where Beckert exhibited escalating abusive behavior toward Walls between 2014 and 2016.
Because Beckert is an elected official, the decision to move him would likely have to come from Beaufort County Council.
It’s still unclear whether S.C. governor Henry McMaster has been asked to intervene and remove Beckert from office, but sources say it is possible the county could ask him to do so.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR..
Mandy Matney is the news director at FITSNews. She’s an investigative journalist from Kansas who has worked for newspapers in Missouri, Illinois, and South Carolina before making the switch to FITS. She currently lives on Hilton Head Island where she enjoys beach life. Mandy also hosts the Murdaugh Murders podcast. Want to contact Mandy? Send your tips to [email protected].