Yesterday afternoon featured some splashy headlines from The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper and The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier as the office of governor Henry McMaster made a big deal about its decision to terminate Amy Cofield as the executive director of the S.C. State Accident Fund (SCSAF).
Not only did McMaster fire Cofield for cause, he instructed the S.C. Office of Inspector General (SCOIG) to launch an investigation into “significant ethical and legal questions about the conduct of employees” at this agency – which is responsible for providing “cost-effective, guaranteed workers’ compensation insurance for state agencies and other governmental entities.”
Specifically, McMaster instructed the SCOIG to “conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether criminal violations of state law have occurred.”
As the headlines attest, a firm employing Cofield’s husband – Jimmy Terrapin – was hired by her agency to a two-year contract valued at up to $600,000 earlier this year.
Wow … nepotism as usual, right? Just another South Carolina bureaucrat taking care of a family member at the expense of taxpayers, correct?
That’s certainly what it looks like … and that’s the perception McMaster’s office was no doubt banking on when it notified reporters of Cofield’s termination on Monday afternoon (right around the time she was being told to collect her things from her former office).
In fact, McMaster went on to say that actions like his termination of Cofield were “key toward maintaining the public’s confidence in state government.”
Cofield has defended herself aggressively against allegations of impropriety … but let’s be real: Is there ever a justifiable excuse for allowing one’s agency to pay their spouse this amount of money?
Some background …
Based on what she told the mainstream media, Cofield’s agency was in the midst of building a new case management system after the spectacular failure of a similar system at the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce (SCDEW). In fact, prior efforts by accident fund leaders to solve this problem had been an unmitigated failure – setting taxpayers back more than $1 million.
(Click to view)
To hear Cofield (above) tell it, she knew that her husband – who has three decades worth of experience in the information technology industry – could help with the project but that it would have been improper to hire him.
After an initial public request for proposals (RFP) yielded no responses, however, Cofield allowed her subordinates to explore the possibility of hiring her husband – including seeking permission from state procurement officers prior to moving forward with another RFP.
This second public RFP yielded only one response – from the company employing Cofield’s husband.
Cofield has told the press she had no role in the decision-making process that led to the contract being signed on January 6, 2021 – that all of those decisions were handled by her subordinates. She has also made it clear that her husband did not report to her.
Again, the optics of an agency hiring the spouse of its director are absolutely terrible under any circumstances. And there is a fair argument to be made Cofield should have never entertained this possibility – no matter who gave it their blessing.
But there is also an argument to be made that Cofield’s husband was (is) eminently qualified for the position – which no one else applied for after two rounds of public RFPs – and that Cofield handled the situation properly in terms of disclosing the conflict and recusing herself from any decisions related to it.
At the very least, there is an argument to be made that Cofield did not deserve to be fired from her job based on the way she handled the situation – let alone find herself on the receiving end of allegations of criminal conduct.
Cofield was appointed to her position as executive director of the fund in January 2019. Prior to assuming the job, she was an attorney specializing in workers’ compensation, real estate, and probate cases.
Sources close to Cofield told us she was in the process of retaining an attorney to defend herself during the SCOIG investigation – and to file a wrongful termination lawsuit against McMaster.
According to our sources, the lawsuit will prominently feature McMaster’s former appointments czar Tommy Windsor, who took a job at Cofield’s agency shortly after she took the position. Windsor has been accused by Cofield of spearheading the effort to terminate her because he was disgruntled in his role.
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Cofield told reporters that Windsor (above) wanted her to create the position of chief of staff at the agency, a title she did not create (or confer upon him) because she believed it was superfluous.
Clearly this bureaucratic battle is only just beginning as Cofield lawyers up and trains her fire on Windsor and McMaster. We are also told the former school teacher from Lexington county – who ran unsuccessfully for superintendent of education a few years back – has several influential legislative allies in her corner as she fights to restore her reputation.
Our view? Like most of our readers, we were shocked at the nepotism allegations that dominated the headlines yesterday – and inclined to give McMaster and his administration the benefit of the doubt in its decision to terminate Cofield.
But if her account is accurate, there is clearly much more to this story … which we suspect her forthcoming lawsuit will elaborate upon in the weeks to come.
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