There is corruption in government at all levels. More of it every day, in fact. In far too many corners of our great nation, elected office has become a license to steal – particularly when it comes to local seats. And in far too many instances, there is little to no accountability for those who take from the public dole at the expense of the public trust.
“The government that governs closest, governs best,” an old adage asserts.
Perhaps … but it also steals best.
Sadly, we have become numb to the fleecing. Immune to the graft. Used to the excuses. We have become so accustomed to being lied to, cheated and stolen from that we scarcely notice it anymore when those in power appropriate our money unto themselves (and their well-connected donors and benefactors) with increasing brazenness and decreasing degrees of shame.
It is no longer outrageous or shocking or even irritating … it is expected.
Scandals that once prompted revulsion now merit little more than an eye-roll. And politicians who deserved to be tarred and feathered find themselves amassing escalating influence – which of course only emboldens further fleecing.
Like any addiction …
Occasionally, though, a scandal is so egregious that it cuts through our desensitized synapses and sparks the sort of visceral condemnation that most of our elected officials deserve based on their conduct.
In our decade-and-a-half of covering corruption in our home state of South Carolina, no scandal has cut through the fog any more sharply than the infamous Richland county penny tax scam of 2012.
Remember this scandal?
The “Richland county robbery” remains at the center of a web of corruption in this Democratic stronghold – and it is also at the center of a special election scheduled for early next week.
To recap: The proceeds of a rigged 2012 tax hike (the so-called “penny tax”) have been subject to severe misappropriation and mismanagement – forcing local politicians to borrow tens of millions of dollars to cover cost overruns related to the politically motivated projects the tax was supposed to be funding.
Former S.C. Department of Revenue (SCDOR) director Rick Reames actually suspended the disbursement of penny tax revenues to the county at one point – saying its leaders were spending the money improperly and had repeatedly refused to bring the program “into compliance with the state’s tax laws.”
Reames’ agency uncovered glaring illegalities in the way the county was appropriating revenue from this $1.2 billion heist – including all sorts of shady payouts to politically connected firms. His investigation also led to the arrests of former Columbia, S.C. city council member Brian DeQuincey Newman and former Richland county council member Kelvin Washington on tax charges.
Misappropriations and mismanagement related to the penny tax kicked off a statewide grand jury investigation back in 2017, news of which was exclusively reported by this outlet.
That investigation is ongoing, and as we noted earlier this year has apparently expanded into … other areas.
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(Via: Getty Images)
According to our sources, a fresh round of subpoenas was recently issued in connection with the inquiry – which has those under the microscope quite concerned.
Against this backdrop, local “strategic communications professional” Jesica Mackey is mounting a bid for Richland county council – specifically a seat vacated by the sudden death of the late Calvin “Chip” Jackson on August 7, 2020.
According to an article in The (Columbia, S.C.) Free Times, Mackey is running because she wants to be part of a “changing energy” in Richland county.
“There is a new breath of fresh air that is coming through the door,” she told the paper.
According to her corporate biography, Mackey worked as a “strategic communications consultant at a global engineering firm, advising public and private sector clients in North and South Carolina on communications strategies for large, complex infrastructure projects.”
This news outlet has confirmed that the engineering concern Mackey worked for is none other than HDR, Inc. – an Omaha, Nebraska based company that (get this) has been intimately involved in the penny tax debacle from the very beginning.
“Prior to the referendum, (HDR) assisted local businesses educating the public about transportation needs, and advocated for the tax,” the company’s project webpage noted. “Now, we are one of three members of the joint venture that manages the program.”
That’s the worst construction of this situation, actually. The best?
Lie to voters … and botch their road projects.
Now as the investigation into this scam approaches a point of critical mass, we find it highly suspect that a former employee of this firm is looking to be installed on county council – where she would presumably have access to a trove of still-secret documents related to this still-unfolding inquiry.
“Are they trying to put Jesica on council to stop the investigation?” a source following the upcoming special election mused.
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Sources closed to Mackey (above) defended her from any such implication – insisting she had “nothing to do with (the penny tax project).”
“She was never on the penny program team,” one pro-Mackey source told us.
Perhaps not … but the proximity issues are troubling. Particularly in light of the recently issued subpoenas and the clear escalation of the investigation. And while Mackey very well could be the “fresh breath” or “changed energy” she claims to be … do voters in northeast Richland county really want to take that chance?
We wouldn’t …
Also, when we questioned Mackey’s allies about her stated support for penny tax programs, we were told she was “definitely not promoting it.”
Yet in the same Free Times story referenced above, Mackey was directly quoted as saying she was “continuing to focus on infrastructure, with the penny program and what’s going on there.”
Sure as hell sounds like she is promoting it to us …
Voters in Richland county go to the polls on September 8, 2020 in the special primary election for this seat. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, a runoff election between the two top vote-getters would be held on September 22, 2020. In addition to Mackey, Angela Gary Addison, Jonnieka Farr and Cody Pressley are also seeking to fill the seat vacated by Jackson.
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